Putin Claims to Have Received Coronavirus Vaccine ‘in Private’ but Won’t Say Which

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Novgorod Region Governor at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 24, 2021. (Alexei Druzhinin/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
Alexei Druzhinin/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed on Tuesday that Russian leader Vladimir Putin received a Chinese coronavirus vaccine dose, but did so in private. He did not say which of the various vaccine options currently available globally Putin opted for.

Peskov insisted Putin did not follow the trend of world leaders receiving vaccine doses in public – publishing photos of their inoculation to encourage trust in the medical products – because “he does not like it,” but he had indeed received a vaccine dose and he would receive a second dose in three weeks. The clarification that the product he chose requires two doses eliminates some options, like the American vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.

At 68, Putin is a senior citizen and at heightened risk to contract a severe case of Chinese coronavirus. His age also limits him from being able to rely on some vaccines that remain untested on elders, such as China’s “Coronavac” product by the firm Sinovac. Russia is believed to be one of the most affected nations by the pandemic, officially tallying 4.4 million cases of Chinese coronavirus and nearly 100,000 deaths. Experts believe that number to be significantly lower than the true infection rate as Russian officials have admitted to undercounting coronavirus cases.

“It goes without saying that the president’s vaccination is a good example for many people. At least, we hope it will be really so,” Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday, refusing to state which vaccine Putin had received, what side effects (if any) he had experienced, and any potential modifications to Putin’s schedule, according to remarks relayed by the Russian news agency Tass.

Peskov hinted that Putin received one of three Russian-made vaccines currently available in the country, though he offered no proof Putin had not instead opted for a Chinese or American one.

“All three Russian vaccines are absolutely reliable, fully effective, and completely safe,” Peskov said in response to questions regarding which product Putin chose. “So, there is no difference which jab the president received. Only he and his doctor who inoculated him know which vaccine the president picked.”

Asked about Putin’s side effects, Peskov also provided no clear information.

“Some of those inoculated indeed have some slightly higher temperature and weakness on the first night after the jab. This is really so, but not everyone, many people don’t have any symptoms after being vaccinated,” he told reporters, adding vaguely that Putin felt “well” and had no plans to miss any work time.

The Moscow Times noted Putin had previously stated he would not broadcast his vaccination to the public.

“Citing Putin at a closed-door meeting with journalists last month, Kommersant reported that he wouldn’t broadcast his vaccination because he ‘does not want to monkey around,'” the newspaper relayed this week.

Similarly, Peskov claimed, “as for being vaccinated in front of the cameras, he does not like it.” In not broadcasting his decision to use a vaccine product to his people, as a mode of encouraging mass vaccination and eventually herd immunity, Putin joins Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, who has been entirely absent in China’s vaccination drive and not made any statements regarding his personal vaccination. At 67, Xi is also a senior citizen and susceptible to a severe case of coronavirus infection.

In contrast, the leaders of free states – including President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Putin rival Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – have broadcast their decisions to vaccinate via photos and videos in an attempt to ease public concerns about the vaccine products, developed at breakneck speed in response to the pandemic.

Russia is home to the world’s first government-approved coronavirus vaccine product, Sputnik V. Putin approved the vaccine in August 2020 despite it not having yet entered the necessary Phase III clinical trials, alarming international public health experts. The Gamaleya Institute of Moscow, which developed the vaccine candidate, had also not released any trial data at the time, making evaluations of the vaccine’s efficacy impossible.

Developers did not release data on Sputnik V until February 2021, when they published claims in the Lancet that the product was 92-percent effective, making it one of the world’s most successful attempts at a vaccine, if true.

The Moscow Times noted in reporting on Putin’s alleged vaccination that Russian people appear to remain skeptical of Russia’s vaccine products, as demand for vaccinations remains low.

“A poll this month said nearly two-thirds of Russians don’t want to get Sputnik V,” the newspaper noted.

Russian government officials blame skepticism regarding their product on an alleged international defamation campaign against Russia generally.

“In many countries, the scale of pressure is quite unprecedented … such selfish attempts to force countries to abandon any vaccines have no prospects,” Peskov claimed last week, implying the American government was behind the alleged efforts.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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