When executives in Sputnik village pronounced recently that they would be offering Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine at the local clinic, surprisingly only 28 pensioners signed up for a Covid jab.

Conversely there has been a skyrocketed international interest in the Russian vaccine has ever since data published in the Lancet medical journal disclosed it to be 91.6% effective against coronavirus. Countries from Latin America to Europe are now giving orders for consignments of Sputnik, the rollout in Russia has been comparatively slow, as people seem intensely reluctant to be injected.

“The Sputnik satellite [in 1957] was a breakthrough and this vaccine is one too!” village authority Galina Bordadymova laughed. “We planned for 25 people to come but we got 28, so we’re pleased,” she added further, letting go the suggestion that interest was quite low in a population of over 1,000, given the present high risk of Covid-19.

Her team had sent out for older residents, selecting those most vulnerable to the virus. “Anyone who wanted the vaccine could get it,” Ms Bordadymova mentioned.

International Curiosity

Western reviewers were initially facetious of Sputnik V as officials made bold assertions on what was then inadequate evidence. However, ever since the data from Phase III trials have shown the vaccine to be effective, with side-effects akin to jabs made in Europe and the US, the interest abroad has surged.

“Even our critics have run out of arguments,” Kirill Dmitriev pointed last month, the head of the RDIF state investment fund that’s supporting Sputnik. The RDIF shares 39 countries have already registered this vaccine.

Hungary was the first country to accept the Russian vaccine for emergency use and Slovakia has recently received two million doses, waving off talk of Sputnik as a “tool” of Russian influence.

“You can say it’s Russian weaponisation, or the vaccine is just a victim of the political background, but definitely politics is more explicitly represented in the case of the Russian vaccine than any other produced in the world today,” Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council asserts.

Nevertheless, Russia has received so many requests for Sputnik the Kremlin says it cannot handle them all with present production capacity.

What is it about Russian caution

In Sputnik village, few residents are apprehensive of catching Covid. Two locals in their 50s died of the Covid during the first wave of the pandemic. Still many villagers seem suspicious of getting the jab.

A vote by sociologists at the Levada Centre this week share only 30% of Russians ready to get Sputnik V – down 8% since rollout started, regardless of the safety data being shared.

“People are afraid; there’s all sorts of rumors about complications,” Lidia Nikolaevna shared.

“Russians are conservative: they don’t trust their own state and they don’t trust whatever can come out of this state,” Andrei Kortunov says, clarifying people’s hesitation.

With no new country level lockdown, and least mention of Covid deaths by officials, they could be assuming that the danger had passed. State TV has not been set up with its full, persuasive force and President Vladimir Putin himself has not yet been vaccinated.

In spite of remote rollouts like in Sputnik and pop-up vaccination points in city shopping centres, just four million Russians have so far had a Covid jab – which is far below the health ministry target of 60% of all adults in the six months’ time.