On August 11, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced a new vaccine for COVID-19. Since then Russia's COVID charts have looked like this:

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Evidently the vaccine has had a weak-to-no effect on both the number of cases and the number of deaths. Why?

There are all sorts of explanations I can think of, e.g. not enough doses have been manufactured, it hasn't been widely distributed, and so on. Therefore I am wondering if there has been analysis of this, and/or an official explanation.

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    Unlike just about every other country, Russia's daily cases chart has always been suspiciously smooth.
    – joe snyder
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 1:11
  • Their daily deaths are quite jagged, though. Maybe its just a function of daily reporting for cases? As I have understood it, the high day-to-day variation in most countries has been due to clumping reports together (e.g. the US tends to see local peaks on Saturday because they include data from other days, then a big drop on Sunday when people are not reporting). Not that I put data manipulation past Putin, but I would think someone would have sounded the alarm. Besides, if your data manipulation puts you as the country with the fourth-most cases, you probably are doing it wrong.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Sep 5, 2020 at 8:53
  • Aside from the other points below, note that even if an effective vaccine were fully available it would take months to vaccinate a substantial enough fraction of the population to make a statistically significant difference in the infection numbers.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 23:28
  • @Obie2.0, that report-day bias is visible even for Russia, mostly for daily recoveries — 0 recoveries on weekends, huge peak on Mondays and steady-ish number during the week. Because in Russia the doctors who have power to discharge from the hospital work Monday-Friday. So everyone who recovered from Saturday to Monday get clamped in the Monday report.
    – user28434
    Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 10:00

5 Answers 5


The initial Russian announcement was bluster. From the NYT's vaccine tracker:

On Aug. 11, President Vladimir V. Putin announced that a Russian health care regulator had approved the vaccine, renamed Sputnik V, before Phase 3 trials had even begun. Vaccine experts decried the move as risky, and Russia later walked back the announcement, saying that the approval was a “conditional registration certificate,” which would depend on positive results from Phase 3 trials

In other words, the Russian vaccine approval was basically just a statement that "we're starting Phase 3 trials and will use the vaccine if those trials are successful". Several other vaccine candidates are also in Phase 3 trials, so nothing is particularly special about the Russian progress. Perhaps they will start distributing it before the phase 3 results are in, but that hasn't happened yet.

  • As a way to start production early, betting on a positive outcome? Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 18:09
  • 2
    @PeterMortensen Maybe. That's not what was announced, though.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 18:39

Answering my own question since I believe I've found the answer.

According to this source,

The senior minister at the department, Mikhail Murashko, announced last week that a nationwide mass vaccination program is planned to begin in October. Murashko added that all expenses will be covered by the government.

Therefore right now (September) the vaccine hasn't been deployed yet, and therefore we should not expect to see a reduction in cases or deaths.

  • I read today that the vaccine will not be publicly available before January.
    – Thomas
    Commented Sep 8, 2020 at 21:17
  • @Thomas where did you read that? Do you have a link?
    – Allure
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 23:13
  • @CopperKettle where did you read that? Do you have a link?
    – Allure
    Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 23:13
  • Oops, sorry, I must have misread a news report, the capacity must be achieved "by the beginning of winter: kommersant.ru/doc/4379350 Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 0:20
  • I cannot find the original source I read it at, but it is mentioned here: teletrader.com/…
    – Thomas
    Commented Sep 10, 2020 at 12:45

It is now in the third testing stage, which would end at the start of 2021. Announcing and readiness are quite different things.

Direct quote from Forbes:

Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the country registered its vaccine and that after passing phase trials for emergency use it will be made available by January 1, 2021 for regular patients if all goes well in final tests.

  • 1
    So it actually isn't being used yet? Or it's being used only in "emergency cases" which would also imply that the number of deaths is decreasing, and it isn't?
    – Allure
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 7:55
  • 1
    Add the fact that the vaccine has to be produced and rolled out, and you can easily see why it takes weeks and months to reduce cases. Its not like when they finally announce the rollout, instantly all of the population is vaccinated. So when it finally becomes ready on January 1st, it will take time to vaccinate the population.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 9:52
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    @Allure vaccine is not a medication to cure someone who is already ill, it's for creation of acquired immunity in a healthy person. If it's an "emergency case" already, then it's about a month too late for vaccines. Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 10:41
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    @Allure I'm pretty sure that's some kind of translation mistake by Forbes' journalists. At least there is no references to emergencies neither in the video of the proceedings nor in the transcript (link, Russian language). Putin did make a statement that his daughter participated in vaccine's trials as a patient, maybe Forbes' article authors assumed that "emergency cases" would be VIPs? Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 11:02
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    I think what happened was that the government "approved" this vaccine as a publicity stunt. And was subsequently criticized for being rushed through without third and fourth trials. But in fact those trials are still being done and the vaccine won't be available to the public until beginning of 2021. Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 12:30

The answer to this question is: "we don't know". This is because COVID-19 statistics reported by Russia may be highly questionable. This alone makes its interpretation hard, whether or not the vaccine is widely available by the time the data are published. Even by the time the vaccine is distributed widely, and regardless of its effect on COVID-19 statistics, the serious questions about the data will remain.

Some refer to the COVID-19 statistics currently coming from the official Russian sources as "almost completely handcrafted and manipulated", and having "nothing to do with reality at all"


A chart of daily cases of COVID-19 in a Russian region looks suspiciously level to me - is this so from the statistics viewpoint?. The answers note that "[The chart] is decidedly out of the ordinary", and that other charts from Russia show similar "underdispersion".


For health demographers like Aleksei Raksha, employed by the state statistics agency Rosstat, something hasn't been right for months, and in May, he spoke out publicly: The low death toll wasn't due to a superior state response, he said, it was due to how coronavirus statistics were being counted.

In other words, Russia has been misclassifying COVID-19 deaths.

Two months after speaking out, Raksha received what may be official acknowledgment of his contribution to Russia's national discussion about the government's response: He was fired from his job, he said. ...

"In general, the statistics on the Stopcoronavirus.ru website raise a lot of questions, I don't trust them, and it's obvious to any specialist that they've all been drawn, forged, fitted, brushed, cropped, aligned and almost completely handcrafted and manipulated," he said.

"But we have nothing else, so you need to somehow take [this data], decode it, think it out, and make a guess. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to draw conclusions based on it," he said. ...

Rosstat itself has come under fire over the past year, with allegations that its otherwise reputable number collection and record-keeping on many socioeconomic indicators were being manipulated for political purposes.

Mark Krutov, Timur Olevsky. "Russian Demographer Questioned Government COVID-19 Numbers. He Was Fired Earlier This Month." Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). July 13, 2020: https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-demographer-questioned-government-covid-numbers-fire/30724158.html

“In many regions, the statistics have nothing to do with reality at all,” said Tatiana Mikhailova, a statistician who has been tracking the virus outbreak since the beginning and regularly raises concerns about data. ...

But Mikhailova told The Moscow Times that the quality is so poor, “it makes no sense to draw medical, virological, or epidemiological conclusions from them.” ...

New more detailed information on deaths being published by regional registry offices — with a significant delay — is now starting to show just how wrong Russia’s original fatality count is.

The data shows that Russia saw 26,360 excess fatalities in May and June, compared with the average death tally over the previous five years, while Russia’s coronavirus task force reported just 9,303 fatalities from Covid-19 over the same period. ...

“Essentially all Russian regions are doing their best to artificially suppress the headline death count,” said Mikhail Tamm, a statistician at the Higher School of Economics (HSE). ...

In a policy which runs counter to World Health Organization guidelines — which says all deaths related to Covid-19 should be counted as such “unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to Covid-19 disease (e.g. trauma)” — Russian authorities only count deaths assigned to the first two categories [out of four total] as specifically resulting from the coronavirus. ...

The broader interpretation of coronavirus-related deaths would have sent Russia’s overall mortality rate at the end of June up from the 1.4% reported by the task force to 4.2%.

Once again, in many regions, the discrepancy is significantly starker, and further complicates understanding the regional aspects of Russia’s coronavirus spread, which was already showing major discrepancies. ...

In fact, including all deaths would have more than tripled the headline mortality rates in 19 of the worst-affected regions.

Jake Cordell. "Six Months Into the Coronavirus Outbreak, Russia’s Statistics Still Provide More Questions Than Answers." The Moscow Times. Updated: Aug. 13, 2020: https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/08/11/six-months-into-the-coronavirus-outbreak-russias-statistics-still-provide-more-questions-than-answers-a71069


The other answers have said (correctly) that the vaccine hasn't yet been distributed as it is still in Phase 3 of testing.

But even if it was distributed, it takes time before the number of cases/day goes down. People that were first infected by SARS-CoV-2 three weeks ago might only have started to develop a fever one week ago, and a confirmed positive test completed today. Therefore today's "cases/day" includes people that were infected 3 weeks ago. To think that a vaccine announced on August 11th would have an impact on the number of cases/day at the beginning of September is a bit extreme (even if it was actually done Phase 3 testing and was deployed to people by now).

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