President Vladimir V. Putin urged Russians to get vaccinated against the coronavirus on Wednesday — his most extensive comments on the matter yet — as his country scrambles to contain a vicious new wave of the illness.
Speaking at his annual televised call-in show, Mr. Putin spent the opening half-hour trying to convince Russians to get one of the country’s four domestically produced shots. It was the latest instance of a marked change in tone about the pandemic from Russian officials, who for months did little to push a vaccine-wary public to get immunized but are now starting to make vaccination mandatory for some groups.
“It’s dangerous, dangerous to your life,” Mr. Putin said of Covid-19. “The vaccine is not dangerous.”
Only 23 million Russians, or about 15 percent of the population, have received at least one vaccine dose, Mr. Putin said. Polls this year by the independent Levada Center showed that some 60 percent of Russians did not want to be vaccinated, even though the domestically produced Sputnik V vaccine is widely seen as safe and effective.
Analysts attribute Russians’ hesitancy to a widespread distrust of the authorities combined with a drumbeat of state television reports that described the coronavirus as either mostly defeated or not very dangerous to begin with.
Mr. Putin revealed that he himself had received the Sputnik V vaccine this year — the Kremlin had previously refused to specify which shot he had been given — and that he had experienced a brief fever after the second dose.
He spoke just as his handling of the pandemic — long touted by the Kremlin as superior to the approach taken in the West — threatened to turn into a major debacle. Russia’s biggest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, have been reporting more than 100 deaths per day recently, setting records; nationwide, the number of reported new cases per day has doubled to more than 20,000 in recent weeks, with 669 deaths reported on Wednesday. The official toll is likely to be a significant undercount.
Regional officials in Moscow and elsewhere have resisted lockdowns. But, almost certainly with Mr. Putin’s blessing, they have made vaccination mandatory for large groups of people, such as service workers. That has prompted an outcry from many Kremlin critics and supporters alike.
“I don’t support mandatory vaccination, and continue to have this point of view,” Mr. Putin said, putting the responsibility for such orders on regional officials.
The renewed surge of the coronavirus could derail the Kremlin’s message of competence in comparison to Western dysfunction just as parliamentary elections approach in September. Mr. Putin’s most vocal opponents have already been jailed, exiled or barred from running, but obvious election fraud or a poor showing by his governing United Russia party could still weaken the president’s domestic authority.