‘We’ve been vaccinated, we’ve grown neither horns nor wings’

Russia’s consumer rights protection watchdog and the Ministry of Health Care are trying to prevent the fourth wave of coronavirus, vaccinate the population against the flu and criticise “heroes”

At a traditional Friday press conference on coronavirus in the republic, the panel temporarily changed. Dmitry Lopushov, chief visiting epidemiologist of Tatarstan, kept vice chief sanitary doctor of the republic Lyubov Avdonina company. The rhetoric of the watchdog and the health ministry is shifting to the importance of realisation more and more: vaccination against the flu is starting in Tatarstan now, whereas a lot of residents of the republic haven’t yet been vaccinated against coronavirus. Read in Realnoe Vremya’s report from the press conference how to manage to get immunised against the two diseases, if the fourth wave of coronavirus awaits Tatarstan and what makes Lyubov Avdonina sad.

Flu on the threshold

Even though coronavirus had been announced as the main topic of the talk, a lot was said about the flu. It is no surprise because the season is about to start, it is time to begin vaccination against the flu, while only 35,6% of the adults in the republic have been vaccinated against coronavirus. Meanwhile, Russia’s consumer rights protection watchdog and the Ministry of Health Care keeps saying that there must be at least a month between the vaccines against coronavirus and the flu, so time is running out.

However, the flu hasn’t yet been registered in the republic: 163 people were examined during a survey on the circulation of the flu and acute viral respiratory infections. Three tested positive: two cases of the respiratory syncytial virus and one case of rhinovirus. Dmitry Lopushov said:

“The Ultrix Quadri vaccine containing four strains of the flu — two A and two B strains — has already arrived in the republic. It is a totally new vaccine, the know-how, it doesn’t have conservatives. It is recommended for people from 6 months to 60 years. This is why children are vaccinated with this first of all — children aren’t vaccinated against coronavirus yet, however, they are in a flu risk group. I urge everybody to actively go to children’s polyclinics and vaccinate children, the republic has enough vaccines.”

As representatives of the Ministry of Health Care and the consumer rights protection watchdog said, the active vaccination against the flu in adults will begin after the second lot of the Ultrix arrives in Tatarstan.

Lyubov Avdonina’s irritation was plain to see when she was asked why it was necessary to concentrate on the flu if it hadn’t yet been registered in the republic, if it wasn’t better to keep focusing on coronavirus. She sighed heavily, complained about journalists’ lack of medical knowledge and explained once again that a survey was carried out to track the number of cases. And the highest vaccination rate does allow bring this number to zero.

“Causality is elementary,” she said with annoyance. The flu doesn’t circulate in the population or it circulates little thanks to vaccination. The same applies to coronavirus. Both infections are transmitted in the same way, in the air. And their preventive measures are identical. And we have said that it is necessary to vaccinate people against coronavirus until September, but unfortunately, the population doesn’t hear us, this is why these vaccines are coinciding now. And we say that the flu vaccine is topical for children who aren’t vaccinated against coronavirus. They are a flu risk group. We strongly urge the rest to vaccinate against coronavirus so that they will receive the second lot of the flu vaccine!”

Avdonina reminded the audience when in 2009 when the population wasn’t yet vaccinated against the flu, thousands of cases of the diseases were annually registered in Tatarstan. In the last years, this number has totalled as much as a couple of hundreds. So the flu incidence has decreased 20 times compared to the pre-vaccination period. And this has happened thanks to the vaccination.

Intricacy of count and fourth wave

Nowadays, the republic has 5,167 people who got infected with coronavirus after exposure. In early September, this number was a thousand smaller. In reply to the question if this didn’t suggest there is a rise in the incidence (we should remind you that according to the watchdog, the level is envyingly stable), Lyubov Avdonina said that one shouldn’t pay attention to this indicator at all.

“People who contacted those with coronavirus are overseen for 14 days, and the number of 5,167 comes from the quantity of people who were crossed off from the list and the number of recently enlisted people. This is why if 1,000 were enlisted 14 days ago, today they are eliminated and new people are added in. I repeat once again, this is a very dynamic number, and it considers those crossed off (after 14 days) and newly enlisted. If we are talking about the last day, new 306 people have been added on the list. So it isn’t correct to look at the number of people who contacted coronavirus patients.”

Also, the vice head of the Tatarstan office of the watchdog calmed society down saying that there was an upsurge in the coronavirus incidence after 30 August. Though we all remember how many people without masks crowded the metro on Republic Day. However, Avdonina noted that many days passed after the holiday, while there was no rise in the incidence in the republic. But it is expected. And the reason is different.

“In any case we expected the incidence of acute viral infections to grow because the season is on. And it won’t necessarily happen after a mass event. We anyway say that acute viral infections have begun and they are already registered. We warn that there will be an increase, but it depends on vaccination — both against coronavirus infection and the flu — if it will be explosive or stay at previous years’ level because immunity is a buffer zone between us and the incidence. Everything turns on herd immunity. This is why preventive measures remain a priority. Masks, a distance, disinfection and vaccination against the two infections,” Lyubov Avdonina explained.

As for the fourth wave of coronavirus, which is expected, for instance, in Moscow, Avdonina is optimistic:

“The faster we are vaccinated, the better the chance is not to see the fourth wave. Perhaps, there will be some growth. But more than a million have already been inoculated in the republic. And this amount is alive, in good health, keeps working, nobody has disappeared. Safety has already been confirmed, and one shouldn’t wait for the infection. Vaccination is a must, there are no side effects. Mr Lopushov and I have been vaccinated, there are a lot of vaccinated colleagues among the journalists. You see that we are fine, we have grown neither horns nor wings. This is why one shouldn’t wait for the infection. One shouldn’t risk and play this game, which, sadly, has a bad final.”

Enterprises will be punished if there is a higher incidence

As Lyubov Avdonina said, fines will not be imposed on those enterprises that were recommended to vaccinate 60% of their employees but haven’t done this only if they don’t have a higher incidence.

“No strict measures will be taken. Some organisations wrote us letters asking to extend some instructions considering that people were on holiday. We sent a letter to those companies where the situation won’t change anymore and the percentage is below 60%: we warn the director that the fixed percentage wasn’t achieved in the staff, consequently, there are persisting conditions for the appearance of the infection, including infections in groups. We recommend the director to take additional measures and provide safety to their employees. If there is an outbreak of the infectious disease and it turns out that this company didn’t take all the necessary measures to prevent it, we will take measures according Article 6.3 Part 2 for the non-compliance with mandatory requirements and our instructions on preventive measures.”

Students will not be mandatorily vaccinated at the moment, no restrictions on young anti-vaxxers are planned so far. But employees of the watchdog are going to universities and explaining there how important it is to be vaccinated. While the vice chief sanitary doctor in the republic makes it clear:

“I think our youth correctly understands life priorities, if they want to end up in a hospital bed and thus prove they are a staunch opponent of vaccination or make the correct decision. We have students who understand it, and we thank them if they spread this information and explain to their classmates that it is necessary. While the vaccination rate in teachers isn’t bad. There is a letter of the Russian Ministry of Education reading that 80% of the teachers must be inoculated. Hopefully, we will increase this percentage by October and November.”

Avdonina separately touched on those who don’t wish to wear masks. In answer to a question if a person without a mask would be allowed to enter the polling station, she unleashed her irritation again:

“I just wonder, what does this person want to prove? He will go to the election without a mask. Why does he need it? To demonstrate he is a hero? One can come without a mask, of course because all safety measures are taken at polling stations. But these aren’t the first elections during the pandemic, and there haven’t yet been incidents. We haven’t met heroes without a mask. Preventive measures stay — flow distribution, personal pens, disinfection, masks. 60% of the members of polling stations are vaccinated. The elections have safe conditions, it is necessary to vote. But at the same time, it is necessary to protect yourself, not show heroism.”

Lyudmila Gubayeva