Russians are spurning the Sputnik jab and heading west for vaccines to enable them to travel more freely as international regulators delay approval.
Although Russia became the first country to register and mass-produce a vaccine at the end of 2020, Sputnik V has struggled to get international approval, effectively barring Russians from travelling to the west, where only those with EU, US or UK-approved vaccinations are able to visit.
This has led to a boom in Russian vaccine tourists heading to nations such as Serbia, which allow visa-free travel from Russia.
EU and World Health Organisation approval of the vaccine would ease international travel for Sputnik-vaccinated Russians, who are currently barred from travelling to most European capitals. The US is also set to ban entry to non-citizens who have not been jabbed with a vaccine approved by the WHO or US Food and Drug Administration.
However, the EU has repeatedly delayed the approval of the Russian vaccine and has said Russia hasn’t provided its regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), with the right data about the vaccine. Russia has dismissed these claims as politically motivated and said the EMA was “dragging its feet” on purpose.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned double-vaccinated Britons against complacency over Covid, saying that waning immunity over time meant booster jabs were vital for continued protection.
The prime minister insisted, however, that there was no need yet for the government’s so-called plan B, which would reimpose restrictions such as mask wearing and home working, despite data showing infections in England at levels last seen at the height of the second wave in January.
“We’re watching the numbers every day,” Johnson told reporters before the G20 summit in Rome, which he is attending in the run-up to next week’s Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.
“Yes it’s true that cases are high, but they do not currently constitute any reason to go to plan B. I think it’s agreed among absolutely everybody, apart from possibly the Labour party. So we’re sticking with the plan.”