Russia sees record Covid-19 deaths as Delta and low vaccination rate bite

Sputnik V vaccine developers vow to overcome export delivery delays this month

Eduard, a homeless man gets a shot of the one-dose Sputnik Light vaccine in St Petersburg. Photograph: Elena Ignatyeva/AP Photo

Eduard, a homeless man gets a shot of the one-dose Sputnik Light vaccine in St Petersburg. Photograph: Elena Ignatyeva/AP Photo

 

Russia has reported a record daily rise in Covid-19 deaths, as it tries to boost its low inoculation rate and deliveries of its vaccines around the world.

The government’s pandemic task force said on Thursday that 808 people had died of coronavirus and 21,932 new infections had been confirmed in the previous 24 hours in Russia, which has now logged more than 6½ million Covid-19 cases and 168,069 fatalities from the virus.

The task force is suspected of understating the death toll, however: Russia’s statistics agency reported about 315,000 Covid-related deaths between April last year and June, and an analysis of official data showed that Russia recorded about 463,000 excess deaths over the same period.

Russia has blamed the more contagious Delta coronavirus variant for a recent surge in infections, which prompted Moscow and some other cities to make inoculations mandatory for many workers in a bid to overcome widespread reluctance to get vaccinated.

Only about 27 per cent of Russia’s population has received at least one vaccine dose, compared with 61.6 per cent in the European Union; 19.6 per cent of Russians have been fully inoculated, compared with 52.7 per cent of EU residents.

Russia became the first country in the world to register a coronavirus vaccine when it approved its Sputnik V shot for public use last August, before phase three clinical trials had been completed.

Officials insist that all four Russian-made vaccines now being used in the country are safe and effective – a claim supported in the case of Sputnik V, with peer-reviewed data published in medical journal the Lancet – but take-up among Russia’s 144 million people was slow.

Vaccine shortages

The introduction of compulsory vaccinations for many public-facing workers prompted a sharp rise in vaccine demand, which in turn led to shortages in some Russian regions and problems fulfilling export contracts to some countries.

Officials in Argentina, Mexico and the Philippines have complained about delayed deliveries of Sputnik V – which consists of two slightly different shots – and Guatemala last month decided to take only eight million of a contracted 16 million doses, and to put the money saved towards US-made vaccines.

The developers of Sputnik V said last week that “that owing to a major scale-up in vaccine production capacity, temporary second component delivery delays that occurred due to this production scale-up will be fully restored in August”.

They say Sputnik V has been authorised in 69 countries, but it is yet to receive approval from the European Medicines Agency for use in the EU.

Moscow blames the delay on political bias, and Hungary and Slovakia are the only EU members to have used Sputnik V – although Slovakia sold 160,000 of its 200,000 doses back to Russia last month due to a lack of demand for the vaccine.