An exceedingly ambitious undertaking Meduza’s readers describe the successes and failures of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout
On January 18, Vladimir Putin declared, “We’ve already transitioned to widescale vaccinations. We must transition from widescale to mass vaccinations.” The president ordered the shift to begin immediately. That same day, Meduza asked readers to describe the vaccine rollout in their regions. (Spoiler alert: Putin may have overstated Russia’s progress.)
This story was originally published in Russian on January 20, 2021.
“Since last week already, I’ve been asking you to start mass vaccinations for the entire population and draft an appropriate timeline,” Vladimir Putin demanded at a cabinet meeting on January 13. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said all the necessary preparations were underway to transition from “widespread” to “mass” vaccinations by January 18. On the designated day, Russian news outlets reported the start of mass vaccinations nationwide — shots were now supposedly available to anybody who wanted one.
According to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, people needed merely to register at the government’s “Gosuslug” (Public Services) website, using the form to schedule a doctor’s appointment. (He said there will be a separate form designed specifically for coronavirus vaccinations by the end of the month.) “Regional officials will schedule vaccination rooms, synchronizing with Gosuslug, and the schedule will be accessible to the portal’s users,” explained Chernyshenko. The government’s website now has a special page displaying information about vaccinations.
Readers who spoke to Meduza, however, said access to the vaccine itself hasn’t caught up to the Kremlin’s rhetoric. By the morning of January 20, we received nearly 350 responses from people in more than 40 regions across Russia, indicating that only the Moscow region has managed to deliver coronavirus vaccines to everyone who wants one. In the capital and its surrounding towns, most people now inoculated against COVID-19 signed up for their shots through Gosuslug or the city’s municipal website. Registration took “just a few clicks” and the injection itself took about 10 minutes at the hospital.
Meduza’s readers in St. Petersburg reported problems with registering for their coronavirus shots — both technical difficulties online and a lack of available appointments at their local clinics. “They wrote down our names in their notebooks and told us that they would call within the month,” said one reader. “The clinic registered me over the phone and told me to wait for a call in March,” said another reader.
In other regions, online registration is much less common. Even when you can register remotely (by phone for example), health officials can rarely say when a patient’s first shot will be available. (Like other COVID-19 vaccines, Sputnik V requires two injections, several weeks apart.) In these areas, you can only add your name to an indefinite waiting list. You’ll be contacted when the supply catches up to demand.
“We can’t get the shot; they’ve promised to start by late January,” said a reader in Voronezh. “I’m a school teacher. Back in December, they collected our consent forms for vaccinations. We haven’t heard anything since,” said another reader in Lipetsk. In Kazan, the authorities are reportedly distributing a limited number of “vouchers” for vaccine access. (There aren’t any left for January.)
Russia has made some progress in its nationwide vaccination campaign. Readers from cities as far and wide as Arkhangelsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Belgorod, Novosibirsk, Kursk, and Magnitogorsk said they managed to get their injections. Other readers from those same cities, however, reported problems with registering for the vaccine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov essentially acknowledged these logistical obstacles on January 20, telling journalists: “It’s an exceedingly ambitious undertaking. So, of course, it can’t be ruled out that there could be temporary setbacks, given the increase in demand for the vaccine in some places.” Peskov promised that any glitches will be resolved soon and Russia’s mass vaccinations will begin in the near future.
Translation by Peter Bertero