Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday tasked officials with launching mass coronavirus vaccinations from next week, touting Russia’s homemade jab as the world’s best.
After being the first country to register a vaccine for use, Russia is looking to leap ahead of other countries in the race to inoculate its population of 146 million.
Russia in August registered Sputnik V—named after the Soviet-era satellite—months ahead of Western competitors but before the start of large-scale clinical trials, which left some experts wary.
“I ask you to begin the mass vaccination of the entire population next week,” Putin told officials at a televised government meeting.
“The Russian vaccine is the best in the world,” he said.
Putin said Russia should “get relevant infrastructure ready” to boost production of the vaccine, which Moscow is promoting to other countries as cheaper and easier to transport than others jabs.
“Thank God our vaccine does not require extreme conditions during transportation,” Putin said.
“This is much simpler and more effective,” he added, referring to Western-made jabs.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova told Putin during the meeting that Russia was ready to launch the mass vaccination from Monday.
“We will have to pretty seriously ramp up the vaccination campaign,” Golikova said, adding that more than 2 million doses will be made available by the end of January.
Many experts are sceptical, saying the country is not ready to mass produce coronavirus vaccines.
Russia began vaccinations with Sputnik in early December even though it was still in its third phase of clinical trials, inoculating workers at high risk of becoming infected.
The Sputnik V vaccine uses two different human adenovirus vectors and is administered in two doses with a 21-day gap.
It can be stored at between two and eight degrees Celsius (between 35.6 and 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit) instead of the temperatures far below freezing required for some other vaccines.
Russia has also registered a second coronavirus vaccine, EpiVacCorona.
The country has in recent months been battered by a second wave of coronavirus infections but the Kremlin has held back from introducing sweeping restrictions like in the beginning of the pandemic.
Recorded new daily cases have been decreasing in recent days.
As of Wednesday, authorities had reported more than 3.47 million infections and more than 63,000 deaths, though experts say that Russian health authorities have been under-reporting the country’s fatalities.
Russia in December said its coronavirus death toll was more than three times higher than it had previously reported, making it the country with the third-largest number of fatalities with more than 186,000 deaths.
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