Russia’s Influence Delays Gagauzia Vaccine Efforts

Rates are half of what they are in the rest of Moldova as locals wait for Sputnik V jab.

Russia’s Influence Delays Gagauzia Vaccine Efforts

Rates are half of what they are in the rest of Moldova as locals wait for Sputnik V jab.

Roman Homenko was one of the first to receive his vaccine in Gagauzia and is a strong proponent of people getting vaccinated.
Roman Homenko was one of the first to receive his vaccine in Gagauzia and is a strong proponent of people getting vaccinated. © Roman Homenko

Vaccination efforts in Gagauzia, the autonomous region in the south of Moldova, are falling badly behind due to what experts attribute to the influence of Russian propaganda.

According to the Moldovan ministry of health, five months after the vaccine roll-out began fewer than six per cent of people in Gagauzia are fully vaccinated, compared to 12-13 per cent in the rest of Moldova.

The AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sputnik V and Sinovac vaccines are all available. However, according to Ivan Hasta, the director of the Centre for Public Health of Gagauzia, vaccine take-up depends heavily on which variety is offered on the day.

“We saw queues of people who wanted to get the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, but not everyone could get it,” he continued. “There was no demand for the Astra Zeneca vaccine at all, although we had it in large amounts. Therefore we’re very much behind in the vaccination rates.”

Some describe scenes in hospitals where people arriving to be vaccinated often leave after discovering that only the Astra Zeneca vaccine is available.

According to Petru Macovei, the director of the Association of Independent Press of Moldova, public opinion in the autonomous region was largely formed by locally available media, much of it Russian.

Although in Moldova these Russian channels have been banned by law, they are freely broadcast in the autonomous region.

“The channels that the residents of Gagauzia trust and watch have their own agenda,” Macovei said. “We see Russian media discrediting other vaccine manufacturing companies and praising Sputnik V. I am sure that this is a propaganda campaign against Western vaccines.”

Gagauzia is also heavily influenced by Moldova’s pro-Russian Socialist party. When the region received 1,000 doses of Sputnik V, the party used this as part of its parliamentary elections campaign. Socialist representatives boasted that the vaccine had been brought in as a result of personal arrangements between the party and Kremlin leaders.

Many people, especially among the older generation, appear to be convinced by this narrative. Grigory Guigov, a pensioner from Comrat, should have been among the first to be vaccinated because of his age and chronic medical conditions. However, he continues to wait for the Russian Sputnik V to become available.

“I watched TV programmes where experts discussed which vaccine was better and they said that AstraZeneca is nothing but the Sputnik V is good,” Guigov said.

The younger generation tends to be better informed, turning to the internet for information rather than solely the Russian-language media.

Roman Homenko, who works in the local parliament, was among the first to be vaccinated and among the few to have agreed to receive the AstraZeneca jab.

“We watched TV with the family and read what the media wrote,” he said. “There have been many questions and criticism about Astra Zeneca vaccine. Then I found one channel on Telegram where I watched an online interview with the developers of the Sputnik V vaccine.

“They said themselves that all criticism of AstraZeneca is related to politics, and now the main thing is to get the vaccine, no matter which one. The most important thing for me is that we defeat coronavirus,” Khomenko concluded

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

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