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Russian big business steps in to speed coronavirus vaccine roll out

Russia is turning to its industrial giants, many of which operate in far-flung locations spread across the world's biggest country, to help ramp up its covid-19 vaccination campaign after a slow start.

Companies from the biggest gold miner Polyus PJSC to the largest iron ore producer Metalloinvest Holding are trying to procure the shots and offer logistical support to get supplies of the domestically produced Sputnik V vaccine to the often remote areas where they work.

Russia is dominated by big business, with small and medium enterprises making up just a fifth of the economy compared with as much as 40% in other emerging economies, according to the World Bank. Getting the country's factories and natural resources companies to pitch in could be key to stemming the pandemic as authorities seek to vaccinate 60% of adults in the first half of the year.

Polyus aims to make the vaccine available to all employees and contractors, according to a statement Tuesday. The company, whose main assets are in the Siberian wilderness far from cities or airports, started offering on-site inoculations this month and has shipped 1,100 doses to its Olimpiada and Blagodatnoye mines to date, it said.

Metalloinvest is helping local health officials track its employees who want to receive the vaccine and has made the shots available at some work sites, a spokesman said.

Steelmaker Evraz Plc seeks to vaccinate 50% to 70% of employees, with billionaire Chief Executive Officer Alexander Frolov among the first to get inoculated, according to a spokesman. Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel PJSC lets workers apply for a vaccine appointment via a corporate mobile app, it said in a statement Monday.

The corporate push comes after covid-19 disrupted operations throughout Russia, one of the hardest hit countries worldwide. Russia had the third-highest number of covid-19 deaths last year, after the U.S. and Brazil.

Even so, the public remains wary of Sputnik V, which was authorized for use before large-scale testing had begun. Only 38% of Russians said they would take it, according to a December poll.

Interim research published last week in The Lancet medical journal indicates Sputnik V is highly effective against covid-19, spurring hopes that more people will seek the shot. Alternatives are also becoming available, and on Monday President Vladimir Putin boasted Russia is the only country with three domestically developed coronavirus vaccines.

"covid-19 is still a risk for industrial companies, while vaccines are available mostly in big cities," Kirill Chuyko, head of research at BCS Global Markets, said by phone. "There's a deficit in the regions, so it makes perfect scene for companies to facilitate their employees getting the shots."

Published : February 10, 2021

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Yuliya Fedorinova