How anti-vaccination campaigners storm Tatarstan’s Civic Chamber
Anti-vaccination campaigners from Samara, Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad paid a visit to Tatarstan’s Civic Chamber
“I am Alina, I represent the International Association of Independent Doctors. Do you warn people of your region they are participating in an experiment?” A young anti-vaccination campaigner from Samara who entered the Civic Chamber of Tatarstan shocked the professional medical community from the beginning. On 9 February, Tatarstan Vice Premier Leyla Fazleyeva and head of the Civic Chamber Zilya Valeyeva held a round-table talk with experts named Vaccination — 100 and 1 Myths about Vaccines against Coronavirus but got caught in the crossfire of provocative questions of doctors and activists of the anti-vaccination movement. Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent witnessed the heated discussion.
Independent doctors behind the door
The Civic Chamber that has always been considered a “calm political harbour” in the noisy information flow turned out to be a real rink for a fight between the medical community and the movement of Russian anti-vaccination campaigners. 10-12 young ladies with a cameraman made noise at the entrance asking to let them join the round-table talk. Doctors from the “red zone”, epidemiologists, representatives of Russia’s consumer rights protection watchdog gathered for the first time there. At first, the professional medical community was going to talk about the protective influence of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V on human health and results of the first stage of the vaccination in detail. But an attack of anti-vaccination campaigners changed the scheduled programme of the first professional discussion.
A rough and insistent knock at the door was heard 10-15 minutes after the meeting began. By this time, head of the Civic Chamber Zilya Valeyeva had just welcomed the audience. First of all, she noted the meeting was not “propaganda of vaccination” and “didn’t urge people to refuse it”.
“We are discussing different points of views, we are ready to hear out different opinions of doctors who meet the death first-hand (Editor’s Note: in hospitals),” she explained. According to her, the application and efficacy of the first Russian vaccine have caused a lot of different talks in society, while the topic itself concerns citizens. And experts, scientists will answer the concerning questions the best. But Tatarstan Vice Health Care Minister Vladimir Zhavoronkov was about to start to deliver a speech, a noise behind the door interrupted him.
As soon as the chairwoman of the Tatarstan Civic Chamber went to open the door, people outside pulled the door towards themselves and nearly injured Zilya Valeyeva’s arm. A group of unknown young ladies in protective masks entered the hall who later introduced themselves as members of the International Association of Independent Doctors. Head of the association Alina Lushavina who said she is a neurologist from Samara and Valeria Orlova, a physician from Saint Petersburg, were among them.
Around 10-12 activists of the anti-vaccination movement arrived in Kazan, but only 5-6 of their representatives were let in. We will say in advance that the guests took the initiative from the first minutes and made moderators of the meeting answer their questions for nearly 2 hours as if it was a street protest. In a word, the tone of the communication was far from professors’ meeting. Though Vice Premier Leyla Fazleyeva asked the guests several times to behave themselves. “I am asking everybody to understand that the round-table talk will take place if we stop shouting,” she warned.
About the article in The Lancet
Vice Health Care Minister Vladimir Zhavoronkov had to defend the first round of the battle. He talked about the vaccination in Tatarstan. According to him, 103 vaccination sites opened in the republic, citizens are offered to make an appointment through the website of State Services: “There is no problem with vaccine supplies anymore. Waiting lists were created that close with time. Our task is to reduce the waiting time as much as possible.” Moreover, he named six contraindications to vaccination, which is an allergy, pregnancy, an aggravation of chronic diseases.
“And how safe is it? Do you guarantee safety in case of consequences?” Alina Lushavina joined the debate and didn’t let the functionary go asking him more provocative questions.
Zhavoronkov claimed that these aspects are discussed during a chat with the doctor. “But the absence of contraindications is key here,” he kept his formal tone. “No, you haven’t replied,” the girl didn’t calm down. “The vaccine didn’t complete clinical trials. Our opinion is that the vaccine didn’t go through all clinical trials. Do you warn people of your region they are participating in an experiment?” she asked instructively.
It seems the vice minister didn’t realise the course of the talk yet and tried to keep the dialogue indicating the results of the vaccine’s efficacy published in The Lancet international magazine. Alina Lushavina was sceptical about it and claimed that doctors around the world distrusted the publication.
“You have shown your intellect and intelligence,” one of the scientists exclaimed insinuating that she should stop talking with that tone. But Tatarstan Vice Premier Leyla Fazleyeva gave everybody an opportunity to express their opinion. She lost patience only when a girl from Saint Petersburg offered Russia’s consumer rights protection watchdog Avdonina to swear on the Constitution that nobody was urged to receive the vaccine.
No forced vaccination
“So, I am urging you to join a constructive, business talk that doesn’t contain the terms ‘swear’, ‘take an oath’, firstly. Secondly, vaccination isn’t mandatory in Russia,” the vice premier put the guests in their place.
According to her, 81,122 doses of the vaccine are available in the republic today. It is little for the population of 4 million people. There is no task of forced vaccination. “If there are facts of forced vaccination, it is necessary to send the information about who, where, when did this, who wasn’t let work to the task force,” she offered.
Head of the Department of Medical and General Psychology of Kazan State Medical University Vladimir Mendelevich claimed that a vaccine was a matter of personal responsibility and personal choice. According to him, he waited for the third phase of trials to end first but understood that the risk of infection was higher than the vaccine, this is why his family was vaccinated and is getting ready to receive the second vaccine in 21 days.
“If there is forced vaccination or you have information about it, the republic’s task force receives all these remarks, accurate proposals. Today everybody expresses his will on his own. If a person doesn’t want to receive the vaccine, he has the right to talk about it: nobody forces anybody,” Fazleyeva stressed.