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Poll: More Than Half Of Russians Don't Want To Get Vaccinated

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Russia has the world's fourth largest COVID caseload after the United States, India and Brazil. President Vladimir Putin is counting on a Russia-produced vaccine, but as NPR's Lucian Kim reports, there's a lot of public reluctance.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: For Vladimir Putin, the success of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V is a matter of personal pride and national prestige.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Earlier this month he ordered the rollout of a nationwide vaccination program. The makers of Sputnik V say it's more than 90% effective, not unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines approved in the United States. Sputnik V is named after the world's first satellite, launched by the Soviet Union. It gives Putin the opportunity to project a little bit of Russian soft power. The vaccine even has its own news bulletins on social media.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The Oscar-winning American filmmaker Oliver Stone got vaccinated with Sputnik V.

KIM: But these kinds of testimonials are not easing skepticism among ordinary Russians. Putin's vaccination program is voluntary, with Russian health authorities hoping to vaccinate about 60% of the population. A poll published this week, however, shows more than half of Russians do not want to get vaccinated, and only 38% do.

In Moscow, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Russia, 25,000 people have been vaccinated at the beginning of the week out of the mayor's eventual target of 6 to 7 million. Right now anybody in Moscow can get vaccinated who's aged 18 to 60, without chronic illnesses and working in a wide range of professions from health care and education to retail and manufacturing. The list includes people who work in Moscow's renowned cultural institutions. But that doesn't impress actor Yevgeny Stavinsky (ph), who's rushing, coffee in hand, to his theater.

YEVGENY STAVINSKY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: The 45-year-old says he doesn't know anything about Sputnik V and that he doesn't plan to get it even though his employer offered to vaccinate him for free.

STAVINSKY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Stavinsky says he knows a lot of people who got sick and even died. And he suspects he was down with COVID for a few days, though he never tested positive for it. If the coronavirus has come to stay, he says, then what's the point in being scared?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: I meet Olga Devitt, 35, who's out on a frigid playground with one of her three kids.

OLGA DEVITT: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She says she's not afraid of COVID because, in her opinion, a vaccine can do more harm than good.

DEVITT: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: I hope my immune system and the immune system of my kids will be enough to get off with a light case of COVID, she says, because it's inevitable we'll all get sick. Older Russians are not as fatalistic. Vladimir Bayashev is a retired printer out with his grandson.

VLADIMIR BAYASHEV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: I'm 65 and above the current age limit of 60, he says. But if they raise it, I'll get vaccinated. Incidentally, the same goes for Vladimir Putin, the No. 1 promoter of Sputnik V.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Last week the 68-year-old said that, as a law-abiding citizen, he's still not eligible to get vaccinated but will do so as soon as the vaccine becomes available to his age category. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF PENSEES' "LUNAMOTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.