President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said he was opposed to mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for Russians but urged the jab-sceptic population to get inoculated, as his country battles a deadly third wave.
His comments came as Russia earlier Wednesday reported 669 coronavirus deaths over the past 24 hours, a pandemic high of fatalities for the second day in a row, according to a government tally.
Russia in mid-June saw infections spike in a third wave driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant first identified in India, authorities have said, and worsened by a sluggish inoculation drive.
Although free jabs have been available since early December, only around 15 percent of Russia’s population had received at least one dose as of Wednesday according to the Gogov website, which tallies Covid figures from the regions.
The slow uptake prompted Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin earlier this month to order mandatory jabs for service sector employees, with more than a dozen regions in Russia since following suit.
The widening policy has prompted concerns that all Russians eventually would be required to be vaccinated, which Putin shot down Wednesday while fielding questions in his annual phone-in session.
“I do not support mandatory vaccinations,” the Russian president said.
Still, Putin — as he has done repeatedly in recent months — called on Russians to get vaccinated.
“It is necessary to listen, not to people who understand little about this and spread rumours, but to specialists,” he told Russians, the majority of whom polls show oppose receiving coronavirus jabs.
“If a person is sick without a vaccine, then the long-term consequences can be very serious,” the 68-year-old Russian leader said.