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What It's Like To Get Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 Vaccine

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Russia now, where President Vladimir Putin is singing the praises of his country's homegrown COVID-19 vaccine. It is called Sputnik V, and Putin's been encouraging Russians to get it. The Kremlin is using the vaccine to project some Russian soft power with other countries that are struggling to get or to afford Western-made vaccines. The backdrop here is Sputnik V was unveiled last year before all the usual tests were completed. Many Russians have been wary, have been reluctant to take it, as was our Moscow correspondent, Lucian Kim, until today. Lucian's on the line from Moscow now.

Hey, there.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So I hear you are fresh out of a city hospital where you got the Sputnik V. How are you feeling?

KIM: I'm feeling fine, thanks. My left arm is just a little sore...

KELLY: (Laughter) Yeah.

KIM: ...But I've been getting vaccines since I was a baby, so (laughter) I know that's pretty normal.

KELLY: And is the Sputnik V, is it a two-dose vaccine or are you done now?

KIM: No, it's a two-dose vaccine. I have to go back in three weeks.

KELLY: In three weeks. OK. Well, tell us about today at the hospital. How did - how does it work there? Was there a big line? Did you have to wait?

KIM: Well, it was a really easy process. I could sign up at a nearby public hospital. I qualify for the vaccine as a journalist. Then I got a confirmation by text message and then just went there this morning. There was no line at all. It was very organized. You know, it was just your standard vaccination as you can hear on this recording I tried to (laughter) make while getting my shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NURSE: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: So the nurse is telling me to relax my arm. And then it was all over before I knew it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIM: (Speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED NURSE: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: And the examining doctor gave me some recommendations I should follow.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED DOCTOR: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: So she's saying I'm not allowed to swim, go to the gym or a sauna or drink any alcohol for the next three days.

KELLY: Ah. OK. I'm curious just what you were weighing when you decided whether to do this or not, Lucian. Because as we mentioned, a lot of Russians have been wary of the vaccine, but the latest reports have been that it is actually quite effective.

KIM: Right. Well, this vaccine is very political. As you mentioned, President Putin unveiled it before it had been fully tested and has since promoted it around the world. But I've spoken to experts, and nobody I talked to said there were really any issues about the science behind this vaccine. There were results published in the British medical journal The Lancet last week that showed that Sputnik V is very effective, almost 92%.

So my concerns with the vaccine were more about the way it might be stored or transported. But it only needs to be kept at cold and not super cold temperatures like some other vaccines. I've also wondered about how long the vaccine will be effective. The doctor today could not tell me that. But at the end of the day, I just decided that Sputnik V is better than no protection at all.

KELLY: And give us a sense of what the national conversation is in Russia when it comes to the COVID vaccine. Do most Russians still have reservations about this or are they lining up now?

KIM: No, there's real resistance to getting vaccinated. I was really surprised that the nurse who gave me my shot still hasn't been vaccinated herself.

KELLY: Huh.

KIM: Polls have shown about half of the Russian population doesn't want to get vaccinated. And, you know, the explanation is the same as in many other countries. There's a lot of skepticism about what the government says people should do.

Sort of a mystery to me is that Vladimir Putin still has not announced that he received the Sputnik V vaccination. He's been the biggest promoter of the vaccine. He said he'd get it when his age category was approved. And now that he can, we still haven't heard that he's done it.

You know, COVID-19 has hit Russia really hard. If you believe the official statistics, there have been almost 80,000 deaths. But according to Russia's own statistics agency, last year there were 358,000 deaths more than normal - what's called excess mortality. Even the government says most of those deaths are linked to COVID-19, which suggests that Russia's real number of COVID-19 deaths last year may have been many times higher than the official figure.

KELLY: That is NPR's Lucian Kim talking about getting the Russian vaccine in Moscow today.

Lucian, stay well and good luck with that sore left arm.

KIM: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.