MOSCOW — Russian health officials have approved booster shots for people vaccinated against COVID-19 six months after their first immunization, as the country struggles to cope with a surge of infections and deaths.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told a government meeting Tuesday that the ministry has issued guidelines allowing those who contracted COVID-19 to get vaccinated six months after they recovered, and those who have been immunized to get booster shots six months after their first vaccination.
Murashko cited an “unfavorable epidemiological situation in Russia” and said that “after achieving herd immunity and stabilization (of the epidemiological situation), vaccination (against the coronavirus) will be carried out once a year.”
He didn’t offer any data supporting the need for booster shots six months after the first vaccination. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, however, referenced “international and Russian studies” showing that immunity in those who have recovered from the virus persists for six months on average and winds down gradually after 9-12 months.
The new guidelines come as infections in Russia soar and vaccination rates lag behind many other nations.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force has been reporting over 20,000 new COVID-19 infections daily since last Thursday, more than double the average in early June. On Tuesday, 20,616 new contagions were registered and 652 deaths — the highest daily death toll in the pandemic.
Russia was among the first in the world to announce and deploy a coronavirus vaccine last year, but has since inoculated only a fraction of its 146 million people. Murashko said Tuesday that more than 23 million — just over 15% — have received at least one vaccine shot.
Hampered by widespread vaccine hesitancy and limited production capacity, Russia’s vaccination rates have picked up in recent weeks, after authorities in many regions made shots mandatory for employees in certain sectors, such as government offices, retail, health care, education, restaurants and other service industries.
But a spike in demand was quickly followed by reports of shortages in a number of Russian regions, and some experts have questioned whether Russia will have enough vaccines to go around.
Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said Tuesday that, to date, 36.7 million sets of four domestically-developed coronavirus vaccines have been released into circulation in Russia, and 30 more million are expected to be produced in July.
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