The numbers of people vaccinated against the coronavirus in Russia have stagnated, but its president, Vladimir Putin, wants to open the country to foreigners who want to receive Russian immunizations. The Russian president has ordered the Government this Friday to draw up a plan by the end of the month with the aim of launching ‘vaccine tourism’ against covid-19. In an intervention before the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum, in which he assured that Russia is coming out of the pandemic on the right foot, Putin praised the vaccines designed in Russia – pending approval by the World Health Organization (WHO) – and accused the West to weigh down its purchase due to “politically motivated bans.” On the eve of the summit with US President Joe Biden, Putin also accused Washington of trying to slow down Russia’s development.
Despite the fact that Russia was the first country in the world to register a vaccine against the coronavirus – Sputnik V, widely supported by the Kremlin – and the immunization campaign began last December, in the Eurasian country of 144 million inhabitants, only about 20 million people have received at least one dose of one of the three available Russian vaccines, according to government data. The distrust of the public, the supply and production problems during the first months and the exhaustion over the pandemic have stalled immunization figures in a country that registers some 9,000 daily infections and around 400 deaths; 123,037 deaths according to the criticized official count (the state statistics agency Rosstat assures, however, that there has been an excess mortality of more than 460,000 people since the start of the pandemic).
In addition, after the first weeks, in which vaccination was free and almost without bureaucratic requirements for everyone, currently only foreigners with a residence permit (a very specific group) can be vaccinated in Russia, which leaves thousands of people out who cannot access vaccination; nor officially through private channels. Yet another public health problem to achieve group immunity in the country.
During his face-to-face speech before the plenary of the Forum, Putin has urged Russians to get vaccinated, but has dismissed the claims of some Russian officials who had asked that immunization be mandatory. Some regions, such as Moscow, have launched programs to promote it and offer gift vouchers to pensioners who are vaccinated. Russia keeps its borders closed to the population of most countries – almost all EU member states, for example – and yet the Russian president invited foreign nationals to visit Russia to receive the vaccine against the covid-19. “Russia does not just fully cover its own needs. We can also give foreign nationals the opportunity to come here and get vaccinated. I know there is a general demand for that, “he said.
For months, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) —the Russian sovereign wealth fund—, which has financed the Sputnik V vaccine, had been proposing the idea of launching vaccine tourism programs. So far a couple of travel companies have organized tours of health tourism for a couple of hundred German citizens who have traveled to Moscow to get immunized in a private clinic. This Friday, Kirill Dmitriev, director of the RDIF, assured that Russia could open up to vaccine tourism as early as July.
The initiative, however, would come at a time when it is very likely that most developed countries have resolved the vaccine shortage they experienced in the early months of the year. And traveling to Russia with one of those ‘tour packages’ could be very expensive for citizens of those states that now suffer from road shortages.