Russia, Explained: Covid Cases Soar as Public Spurn Jabs

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA – JUNE 23, 2021: A mobile coronavirus vaccination site at the Aura shopping mall. Kirill Kukhmar/TASS.
NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA – JUNE 23, 2021: A mobile coronavirus vaccination site at the Aura shopping mall. Kirill Kukhmar/TASS.

Doctors have been secretly substituting the Sputnik V vaccine with the untested and unverified EpiVacCorona.

Russian covid wards have not been so badly overrun since last fall. A new covid-19 wave is engulfing the country amid collapsing vaccination efforts, as many Russians simply refuse to be vaccinated with Russian-made vaccines. But there is a darker side to the vaccination process. Novaya Gazeta’s Irina Tumakova revealed officials giving Russians a different and possibly ineffectual trial vaccine without their knowledge.

According to the publication’s investigation, doctors have been secretly substituting the Sputnik V vaccine with the untested and unverified EpiVacCorona — which Novaya wrote about in-depth a couple of weeks ago. Most of the patients received the vaccine without their permission and learned about it only afterward. Novaya’s sources reveal, and corroborate the evidence that the vaccine was used without consent, and without the agreement of patients.

One interviewee, Igor (not his real name) received his jab in Russia-annexed Crimea. He was at first assured by doctors that he would receive Sputnik V, and was handed a consent form that did not state the name of the vaccine. “Only by the time I had already arrived for the second vaccine shot did I learn that I had been vaccinated with EpiVacCorona. They deceived me,” Igor said. Many Russians across the country told similar stories.

Meanwhile, a third Covid wave is sweeping Russia. According to much-contested official figures, almost 17,400 new covid cases and 440 new Covid deaths were reported on Monday of last week alone. This is the worst spike since October last year. Some of Russia’s neighbors are in a worse position, but the country is now clearly defying the trend of falling case numbers in surrounding countries. President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that the situation in Russia's regions has been deteriorating, and a new vaccination drive may be on the cards. “In many regions, the situation has even got worse,” Putin told Russia's lower house.

The most recent data analysis warns that the third wave might easily top the previous one in the coming weeks. “Looking at this data, I can say that it is growing more rapidly than the two previous ones. This may be due to the arrival of more contagious covid-19 variants, [the] almost complete abandonment of pandemic restrictions by officials, and total disregard by Russians to sanitary measures and vaccinations,” independent analyst Alexei Kupriyanov told Novaya.

Russian authorities canceled most pandemic restrictions months ago (except for those willing to express their anti-government criticism in public.) Foreigners might marvel as life returns to normal in big Russian cities, following the start of the vaccination campaign at the end of last year.

But that decision turned out to be premature. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin described the surge of new cases in the nation's capital as “explosive." Over the past two weeks, 40% of all new cases in Russia were detected in the capital. He added that restaurants and bars would only admit people if they have already had covid or been vaccinated. The new restrictions were set to come into force on June 28.

EpiVacCorona was registered in Russia in October 2020, and is one of two new Russian vaccines developed in response to the pandemic following the rollout of Sputnik V (the other is called CoviVac). All three have been rushed into use before the completion of international phase 3 clinical trials. And yet, while Russia was the first country in the world to produce a covid-19 vaccine, official statistics show only 10% of the country’s population are fully vaccinated.

Russia's last remaining independent pollster, Levada Center, recently found that the vast majority of Russians are unwilling to be immunized against covid, citing both a distrust in the vaccines and a belief that covid is not a serious illness. In Russia, some 128,000 people have died as a result of the virus, according to official figures. However, the actual number is likely to be much higher. Our investigations have exposed the government doctoring both mortality and vaccination rates linked to covid-19.

There is also a high death rate among doctors and a general shortage of personnel in hospitals. Doctors are suffering in the battle to save patients, and several families of medics fatally exposed to the virus have not received the compensation promised to them by the state. Spouses, parents, children under 18 or students under the age of 23, as well as disabled children and children under guardianship can apply for 2.7 million rubles ($37,000) in compensation. We’ve fact-checked at least 47 cases where insurance payments have been completely denied to families.

Russia suffered almost 400,000 excess deaths between the start of the pandemic and the end of January, according to official figures.

This story is written by Aliide Naylor and is based on reporting by Irina Tumakova, Elena Romanova, as well as Antonina Asanova, Katya Bonch-Osmolovskaya, and Artem Shchennikov for Novaya Gazeta. 

 


Photo: NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA – JUNE 23, 2021: A mobile coronavirus vaccination site at the Aura shopping mall. Credit: Kirill Kukhmar/TASS.

July 1, 2021