Moscow begins booster vaccine campaign as Russia's COVID-19 cases surge

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Health clinics in Moscow will begin offering booster vaccine shots against COVID-19 on Thursday, the city’s mayor said, as Russian officials scramble to contain a surge in cases blamed on the highly infectious Delta variant.

FILE PHOTO: A medic of the regional hospital receives Russia’s “Sputnik-V” vaccine shot against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tver, Russia October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo

The health ministry issued new regulations for the national inoculation programme on Wednesday, recommending clinics begin administering booster doses to people vaccinated six months ago or more, making Russia one of the first countries globally to begin re-vaccination.

The health ministry said campaign was an emergency measure as coronavirus cases in Russia rise sharply and vaccination rates remain low.

Russia reported 672 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, the highest official death toll in a single day since the pandemic began.

Russia has inoculated just 16% of its population since launching its vaccination programme in January, in part driven by widespread distrust even as the country developed its own vaccines.

The health ministry said it would be pursuing “emergency” vaccination and recommending booster doses for vaccinated people every six months until at least 60% of the adult population is vaccinated.

Initially the authorities had planned to reach this target by autumn, but on Tuesday the Kremlin said it would not be met.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said revaccination was available with any of Russia’s four registered vaccines, but that the flagship Sputnik V and the one-component Sputnik-Light would initially be used at eight clinics across the city.

Scientists behind the Sputnik V shot have previously said that protection generated by the shot lasts much longer than six months, maintained by memory cells that stand ready to rapidly generate antibodies when encountering the virus.

However, scientists have recommended booster doses to keep the number of protective antibodies in the body at a high level considering the rapid spread of the Delta variant.

“We need to keep an eye on the strain, keeping antibody levels high through more frequent re-vaccination,” said Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute which developed the vaccine.

“This is because memory cells are late to get to work … they start to build up the right level of antibodies around the third or fourth day,” he was cited as saying by the Interfax news agency last week.

The government coronavirus task force confirmed 23,543 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the most since Jan. 17, including 7,597 in Moscow. That pushed the national case total to 5,538,142 since the start of the outbreak.

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