Vaccine or vodka? Russians told to choose their shot

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By Euronews, EFE
A Russian healthworker is among the first to receive the Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 on December 5, 2020.
A Russian healthworker is among the first to receive the Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 on December 5, 2020.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

Russians are proud to be among the first countries to have a large-scale vaccination campaign against COVID-19.

But they're less enthusiastic about the added stipulation that anyone taking the jab cannot drink alcohol for nearly two months.

Health authorities say the Sputnik V vaccine — which requires two shots three weeks apart — is not effective if booze is consumed.

They initially said people who get the COVID-19 vaccine should abstain from alcohol for 42 days, eventually raising the recommendation to 56 days, arguing that "at least two weeks" were needed prior to the first shot to prepare the body.

It's a big ask in the run-up to the festive season when champagne and vodka are very much de rigueur in Russia.

It also clashes with the belief held by a majority of Russians, confirmed by surveys, that the consumption of alcohol in general, and vodka in particular, strengthens the immune system.

'A vaccine for children and the elderly'

The vaccination campaign started in Moscow on Saturday and is to begin elsewhere by the end of this week.

It works on a voluntary basis and was made free for all, but people were quick to react to the alcohol addendum on social media.

"Jesus Christ only fasted for 40 days and here it's 42," said one of the many users who spoke out online.

Some consider it impossible to comply with the health recommendation and wonder if the only segments of the population that will receive the vaccine are children and the elderly, who drink the least.

"In short, half the country is not suitable for vaccination," said another Internet user.

'A glass of champagne won't hurt'

Also, not all specialists agree with the government's official guidelines. This includes Alexandr Guinstburg, director of the Gamaleya Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which is developing Sputnik V.

"Under no circumstances should you get drunk, including during the vaccination process, as alcohol has a negative influence not only on a person's behaviour but also on the functioning of the immune system, but a glass of champagne does not harm anyone," he said.

"But one glass of vodka will," he said. The national drink has an alcohol concentration of 40 per cent compared to champagne's 12 per cent. "Just 1 per cent" of alcohol in the body has a "very negative" impact on the effectiveness of the vaccine, he explained. That is why he recommends not drinking alcohol three days after each of the two injections of the vaccine.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which has estimated a 43% reduction in the consumption of beverages such as vodka in Russia between 2003 and 2016, also believes that alcohol consumption is counterproductive to COVID-19.