Russian Mandate for COVID Vaccines in Some Sectors Boosts Number of People Getting Shots

Russia issued a COVID-19 vaccine mandate a month ago and some sectors in Russia have seen a boost in the number of adults vaccinated, including in Moscow where over 65 percent of medical workers, teachers and social workers have been vaccinated.

Deputy Mayor Anastasia Rakova said that nearly 70 percent of medical workers, 66 percent of employees in education facilities and 76 percent of social workers in Moscow have been vaccinated.

All three sectors met the threshold set by authorities a month ago which required eligible companies and institutions to ensure 60 percent of their staff have received at least one shot by July 15. Businesses and institutions must then make sure 60 percent of staff have been fully vaccinated by Aug. 15.

Shots have also been mandated for employees working in retail, public transportation, and hospitality and services sectors in Moscow.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Russia vaccine
A healthcare worker injects a dose of Russia's Sputnik Lite COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination point for foreign people at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on July 14, 2021. Moscow mandated a month ago that 60 percent of workers in certain sectors must receive at least one dose of the vaccine by July 15. Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

Russia has been facing a rapid surge of coronavirus infections in recent weeks, with the number of daily confirmed cases soaring from about 9,000 in early June to over 25,000 last week. For the first time in the pandemic, the daily death toll exceeded 700 last Tuesday and has remained at that level ever since. On Thursday, Russia's state coronavirus task force reported 25,293 new contagions and record 791 deaths.

Russia's vaccination rates, in the meantime, have lagged compared to other nations. As of Tuesday, 28.6 million Russians — or just 19.5 percent of the 146 million population — have received at least one shot of a vaccine.

In light of the surge and low vaccine uptake, authorities in nearly 30 Russian regions have made vaccinations mandatory for certain groups of people, like those employed in health care, education, retail, public transport, government offices and services sector.

Moscow and the region surrounding it were the first to announce the measure a month ago. Otherwise employers would have to suspend unvaccinated workers without pay and face steep fines.

Business owners say meeting the deadline was a challenging task. Oleg Sirota, founder of a cheese factory 40 kilometers west of Moscow that has dozens of retail outlets in and around the Russian capital, said that as of Thursday, 70 percent of staff have received their shots, but the reluctance was difficult to overcome.

"We started pressuring people (after the mandate was introduced), and people were simply scared," Sirota told the Associated Press. "Many don't understand that the vaccine is safe. Many have doubts. Many think they can't get inoculated because they suffer from certain conditions."

Some have quit because they were unwilling to get vaccinated. Sirota said that 10 of his employees resigned, and he expects to lose about 10 percent of the 250 people he employs.

Russian media reported earlier this week that the Moscow metro has been already suspending employees that haven't gotten vaccinated. The metro rejected a request for comment sent by the AP and referenced an online statement by the Moscow transport department, in which it denies reports about suspending those who are medically exempt from vaccination.

Nearly 70 percent of those employed in the public transport sector in Moscow have been vaccinated, the statement said.

Public Transport Workers Union chairman Yuri Dashkov said the union currently works with about 30 workers who have been suspended already.

Moscow tram driver Alexander Petukhov told the AP he refused to get vaccinated and was suspended last week. Petukhov cited "unknown consequences" of the shot.

"I think everyone should decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated or not. I am not against vaccination, I'm against mandatory measures," he said.

Vaccination Clinic
A woman climbs the stairs to queue for a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Gostiny Dvor, a huge exhibition center, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. The banner, center, reads "We will defeat COVID-19 together!". Russia gave Sputnik V regulatory approval in August 2020, raising criticism at home and abroad because it had only been tested on a few dozen people at the time. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Photo