More Russian Regions Mandate COVID-19 Vaccine Shots

More Russian regions have made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory in certain sectors, a day after Moscow issued a similar decree requiring some employees get a shot in the capital in response to a surge of infections driven by virus variants.

Authorities in three additional Russian regions on June 17 said they planned to introduce the compulsory coronavirus shots in the service sector, including in retail, education, and health care.

Moscow first announced the unprecedented requirement that companies ensure 60 percent of employees get a shot, with the first inspections slated for mid-July.

The broader Moscow region then followed suit, as did the Siberian region of Kemerovo and the Far East region of Sakhalin.

Critics of the requirement say there is no legal basis for companies to pressure staff to get shots in order to meet the decrees and avoid penalties.

Russia was among the first countries in the world to roll out a vaccination campaign, but there is widespread hesitancy to get a shot.

As of early June, only 12 percent of Russia’s 146-million population had received at least one dose.

Even in Moscow, only 15 percent of the city’s population of 12 million has been vaccinated.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on June 17 that the situation was “extremely difficult” and the country must “step up the vaccination pace.”

“Experts speak of the emergence of new strains that not only spread rapidly, but also lead to serious complications,” he said.

Authorities say the so-called delta variant that hit India hard and has since spread around the world is behind the rise of cases in Russia.

The delta variant is believed to be faster-spreading than other strains of the virus and there is some evidence to suggested it causes higher hospitalization rates.

Russia has reported more than 5.2 million confirmed virus cases and nearly 128,000 deaths, although real figures are believed to be much higher.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, and Interfax