It’s better to come and get a Covid-19 shot in Russia than to endlessly wait for it in the European Union, Italian politician Alessandro Ravaglioli has told RT after he received his second dose of Sputnik V in Moscow, this week.
The EU has struggled to vaccinate its population in a speedy manner, amid repeated vaccine shortages and delivery delays. Whereas Russia has the opposite problem, with vaccine availability outstripping demand in many regions. This has prompted officials to publicly encourage vaccine uptake.
Many EU citizens are still waiting for their shots at home, while some have decided to take a more unconventional approach, traveling all the way to Russia to receive the Sputnik V vaccine, which is yet to be approved by the European Medicines Agency.
One such person is Alessandro Ravaglioli, an Italian politician from the conservative Lega Nord party, who has just received his second dose of Sputnik V in Moscow. Married to a Russian, he came to the capital in March, for his first jab. Now, fully vaccinated and with a certificate to prove it, he can return to his large family back home.
“If I [had] to wait [for] my Italian shift, I should be vaccinated, maybe, in autumn,” Ravaglioli told RT, adding that it would have been too long. While saying the EU is a “very developed community,” the prospect of being “killed because some bureaucracy in Europe does not work” is not an appealing one for him.
After receiving the second dose, Ravaglioli appears to be feeling quite well and has already celebrated the occasion with a couple of friends in a Moscow restaurant. A former member of Rimini’s municipal council – for Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, he’s a professional construction engineer and joined the Lega Nord in 2019.
He explained that many members of his family are in the ‘at risk’ category, and getting the shot was just as much about protecting them as himself. He also believes that politics is the only reason for the EU to be hesitant about approving the vaccine, which has already been green-lighted in more than 50 other countries.
“As I said to all my friends, the problem with Sputnik is that it is made in Russia. I do not see any other problems,” Ravaglioli said, adding that if something is produced in the US, like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, it somehow immediately finds its way to Europe, but not so with Russia’s Sputnik V.
The man expressed hope that politicians would make saving lives their priority and would not “support some other interests.” The policy during a pandemic should be to provide all possibilities for people who want to be vaccinated, he added.
With the current production surplus and absence of delays or waiting lists, Russia might indeed be an attractive destination. There are also hundreds of vaccination points across the country, and some of them are essentially open to foreigners.
People from other countries could be vaccinated in one of the mobile centers found in food malls, theaters, and shopping centers like the GUM department store next to Red Square in Moscow. All public and even private clinics providing vaccination services to Russians are, however, off limits to foreigners.
Foreigners seeking to be vaccinated at a mobile center should have a passport, fill out a questionnaire, and undergo a short medical screening there.
Ravaglioli is certainly not the first to take advantage of the opportunity – others, including citizens of Belgium, Brazil, Germany, and the UK, have already done so at a mobile center in the GUM department store, according to local media.
Not everyone in Russia welcomes these practices, however. The former Russian medical chief, Gennady Onishchenko, called it the “wrong path.” Onishchenko, who once headed the consumer rights watchdog and is currently an MP, argued that foreigners could fail to report their full medical status or chronic diseases, making it potentially difficult for Russian specialists to properly deal with any sudden medical issues that may appear as a result of Covid vaccination.
“It is important to remember that it is a doctor who assigns a vaccine,” he said.
Russian business leaders, on the other hand, have called on the government to ease entry restrictions for foreigners and organize a sort of a visa-free vaccination vacation system for them.
In late March, the head of the Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers, as well as the president of the trade centers union and the head of the All-Russian businessmen movement, published a video address to President Vladimir Putin in which they urged him to “allow visa-free travel to Russia for foreigners who want to be vaccinated against Covid-19.”
The measure could be similar to the system used for people coming to Russia for the 2018 World Cup, they said. “We will not only help foreigners in desperate need but will also support Russian businesses across all spheres, which continue to fight economic fallout from the pandemic,” the address said.
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