Share of Russians who would decline COVID-19 vaccine grows, pollster says

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A growing number of Russians are unwilling to be inoculated against COVID-19 once a vaccine becomes widely available, the Levada Centre, Russia's only major independent pollster, said on Monday.

The poll showed that 59% of participants would decline a vaccine as of Oct. 20, up from 54% two months earlier.

Russia is beginning to roll out a vaccine against COVID-19, after licencing a shot known as Sputnik V, for domestic use in August despite the fact that late-stage trials of the vaccine are still ongoing.

Small numbers of people in high-risk professions are being inoculated, but mass vaccination of the general public is still some way away as Russia deals with the challenge of ramping up production of doses.

President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia hopes to start mass inoculations by the end of the year. [L1N2HK15Q]

Almost two-thirds of the 1,600 Russians surveyed across 50 regions, however, told Levada that if given the option to be vaccinated voluntarily and for free, they would refuse. Just 36% of them said they would agree to be vaccinated.

It's a stark contrast to the global average, as registered in a poll of 13,000 people across 19 countries around the same time. It reported that 71.5% of people polled would be very or somewhat likely to accept a COVID-19 vaccine.

In the Levada poll, 64% of Russians said they were either definitely afraid of catching coronavirus or more afraid than not, and 92% reported wearing masks in public places.

Though 62% said they either fully or mostly supported measures taken by their local authorities to tackle the pandemic, 61% also said they did not trust government reports of the number of people who have been infected, saying these were either artificially low or artificially high.

Moscow is setting up a large network of vaccination rooms and 2,500 Muscovites in the high-risk category - mainly doctors and teachers - have already been vaccinated, the city's deputy mayor was cited as saying last week.

A trial set to involve 40,000 people in total in the capital began in early September. Around 9,000 Moscow residents have received both shots of the two-dose Sputnik V so far, the vaccine's developers who are running the trial said last week.

(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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