Russian President Vladimir Putin is hopeful that Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine will soon receive World Health Organization approval, opening the doors to free travel for an estimated 200 million people immunized with the vaccine.
In a video call on Sunday with Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Putin said the move was key to boosting global supply, especially to countries in the need.
“We intend to extend this assistance,” Putin said.
WHO has reviewed data on Sputnik V as part of its approval process, paving the way for the inclusion of jab in the COVAX program, which provides COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world on an as-needed basis. .
Putin’s comments come after Russia faced its biggest and deadliest coronavirus surge in recent months, which has seen infections and deaths soar to new highs. More than 281,000 people have died from the virus in the country to date, the highest death toll in Europe.
Russia was the first country in the world to allow a vaccine against the coronavirus, launching Sputnik V in August 2020, but adoption has been slow.
Putin remained adamant that vaccinations should remain voluntary, and said on Sunday that health officials were using “persuasion, not pressure” to promote their adoption.
They also dispelled “the prejudices and myths that lead to aversion to vaccination,” he said.
Putin himself was immunized with Sputnik V in the fall and last month received a booster of Sputnik Light and an experimental nasal version of the vaccine.
The Gamaleya Institute, the developer of the vaccine, announced that it would immediately begin work on adapting the vaccine to counter the new Omicron strain of the virus, adding that current versions of the vaccine should still offer protection against the variant.
The vaccine woes come at a politically difficult time for Putin, marred by low approval rates and mounting tensions on the Ukrainian border.
Russia plans to station 175,000 troops near Ukraine by early next year, sparking fears among Western officials that this could be a prelude to an invasion.