This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered the government to start “large-scale” coronavirus vaccinations next week, as Russia tries to ramp up availability, and attention, for its Sputnik-V vaccine.
Putin’s order, made December 2 during a teleconference with Defense Ministry medical institutions, comes amid continuing questions about the efficacy of the Russian vaccine.
The announcement also came hours after Britain said it had approved a vaccine, developed by a joint American-German collaboration, after clinical trials showed it was 95 percent effective and offered significant protection for older people.
Putin in August announced that the Russian government had approved what appeared to be the world’s first coronavirus vaccine. But the vaccine had not yet undergone crucial Phase III testing, and was only given to a few dozen people. Researchers initially released little public data that could be peer reviewed or examined by independent scientists.
Since then, several Western biotech companies have announced promising, verifiable results, including Pfizer and BioNTech — the American-German team behind the British vaccine. The U.S. regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, will consider approval of that vaccine on December 10.
Russia’s lead vaccine maker, the Moscow-based Gamaleya Center, supported from the state sovereign wealth fund, have pushed to show the Russian vaccine was equally as promising as its Western peers.
In the December 2 call, Putin pledged that about 2 million doses of the Sputnik-V vaccine would be produced in the near future and medical personnel and teachers would be the first to receive them.
He told Tatyana Golikova, the deputy prime minister who oversees health and medical issues, to start large-scale vaccinations by December 11.
“If you think that we have reached very close to such a phase, I would like to ask you to organize the work in a way to start a large-scale vaccination at the end of the next week,” Putin told her.
Golikova answered that she and her team would not be able to say for certain if mass vaccinations could begin until next week
“Let’s do this first step,” Putin urged.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko has said more than 100,000 Russians have already been given the Sputnik-V shots.
In addition to Sputnik V, two other coronavirus vaccines are also being developed, including one called EpiVacCorona developed by the Vektor state virology research center in Siberia. The third, developed by the Chumakov Institute in Moscow, is getting ready for final tests, officials said.
Russia had 2,347,401 total cumulative coronavirus cases as of December 2, with 41,053 deaths to date.