A new survey has revealed that nearly two out of three Russians believe that the novel coronavirus is a manmade biological weapon and that less than a third are willing to get vaccinated with the Russian developed Sputnik V shot.
Conducted by the Levada Center polling agency in late February, the survey further showed that the findings reflect a growing public distrust toward authorities, largely fueled by the lack of transparency over the course of the yearlong pandemic and rapidly deteriorating relations with Western nations.
According to the poll, which surveyed sixteen hundred individuals, 64 percent of respondents said that the coronavirus was artificially created and is, in fact, a “new form of biological weapon.” Another 23 percent of respondents believed that the virus appeared “without human intervention.”
Those who are willing to roll up their sleeves for a coronavirus vaccine stood at only 30 percent, which was down eight percentage points from December. Among those not wanting to get inoculated, 37 percent admitted that they fear the potential side effects, 23 percent hoped for more results from clinical trials, and 16 percent said they “do not see any sense” in getting the shot.
The homegrown Sputnik V vaccine was initially bombarded with international skepticism because Russian officials decided not to wait for data from large-scale clinical trials. The shot, which relies on two delivered doses that utilize different inactive viruses, was fast-tracked for registration in late summer last year.
At the time, state vaccine developer Gamaleya Institute claimed that the shot was 91 percent effective after the two-dose regimen. Last month, the medical journal The Lancet published study results showing that it was indeed safe and boasted a 90 percent-plus efficacy rate. The vaccine is now registered in a total of thirty-nine countries, including European Union member Hungary.
Still, distrust among many Russians still remains.
“The Kremlin launched Sputnik as an ideological weapon without even waiting for the end of clinical trials,” Alexei Levinson, a sociologist and senior researcher at the Levada Center, told the Agence France-Presse.
He added that such events “greatly alerted Russians” who are already suspicious of the pharmaceutical industry in general and that citizens are more prone to believing in conspiracy theories during “particularly tense times.”
“The world for Russians has become hostile and uncomfortable,” Levinson noted.
To date, there have been no official figures on the progress of the national mass vaccination rollout—although in late February a health ministry infectious disease expert acknowledged that roughly four million Russians had been inoculated.
According to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, more than 4.2 million Russians have been infected with the virus and eighty-five thousand have died.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.