Der Spiegel: For “Sputnik V” and back – the Germans rush to Russia

Hundreds of Germans are rushing to Russia for anti-COVID vaccinations. But not only – Moscow is issuing tourist visas again, writes the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Der Spiegel: For "Sputnik V" and back - the Germans rush to Russia

In Germany, many Germans, like 24-year-old Thomas Waller, would have to wait for his coronavirus vaccine for many more months – in Russia he was able to get it right away. Waller became one of the first participants in a vaccine tour to Moscow organized by a Norwegian travel agency: 50 Germans came to the Russian capital over the weekend to be vaccinated with Sputnik V. Before the vaccination, the doctor, while still at the hotel, examined all the arriving foreigners, measured the pressure, temperature, listened to the lungs, and asked about recent illnesses.

“In Germany, as a young man without previous illnesses, I would have had to wait for vaccinations for months, in Moscow it happened immediately”, – says Waller.

“To be honest, I do not believe that each of us, as the German government promises, will get the opportunity to get vaccinated before the summer”.

In addition, he still has a few weeks of vacation left – he will have to defend his bachelor’s degree in computer science only in the fall, after the rest. Like Waller, many of the tour participants have been looking online for alternative vaccinations for weeks.

“The United States didn’t come because of the visa”, – says Enno Lenze from Berlin.

“There was no free time in Serbia to make an appointment”.

Russia turned out to be the only proposal that he could really consider. At the beginning of the month, Moscow opened its borders to Germans and is issuing tourist visas again, Der Spiegel explains.

For 66-year-old Fifi from Baden-Württemberg, who did not want to give her last name, the coronavirus vaccine is just a pleasant side effect. First of all, she wanted to come to Moscow in order to visit the Bolshoi Theater, where the opera singer Placido Domingo is supposed to perform. In addition, in Russia everything has reopened a long time ago – bars, restaurants, cinemas, shops and sports clubs are full of people, as if the pandemic was over long ago.

According to the tourist, she does not understand why Sputnik V is being criticized. This is exactly the same vector vaccine as AstraZeneca, “only with higher potency”. So why not pick the best option? The developers of Sputnik V published data that the vaccine was 91.6% effective, but even after that, some had doubts about the Russian vaccine. Even in the country itself, there is skepticism: many people are still not ready to get vaccinated and prefer to wait.

“Sputnik V” is still not admitted to the EU, it is still being checked by the relevant department. At the same time, Moscow was the first in the world to register a vaccine against coronavirus back in August last year – however, according to an accelerated and not particularly transparent procedure, the third clinical phase of which with thousands of subjects was supplemented only later. Fifi is known for this criticism, but she believes that things are even worse with AstraZeneca in Germany.

A tour package to Moscow with Sputnik V vaccination costs €1,999, the article says. It includes two roundtrip plane tickets three weeks apart for both injections, three nights in a hotel with breakfast, transfers, translation services, and an organized visa application. For the Sputnik V vaccine, which can also be booked separately, an additional €300 must be paid.

A few weeks ago, Russian Minister of Health Mikhail Murashko said that foreigners would not be vaccinated for free yet: first, you need to protect your own population. At the beginning of the year, foreigners without a residence permit could still get vaccinated for free, for example, at GUM on Red Square, Der Spiegel notes. This has not been possible in the past few weeks. Now foreigners have to go to one of the private clinics, where they can get vaccinated, paying for one injection of Sputnik V from €30. In particular, this is exactly what the author of this article, the correspondent of the publication Christina Hebel, did.

Albert Siegl, co-owner of the World Visitor agency offering vaccine tours, says the Russian authorities have shown a high degree of cooperation. For him, it is not about politics, but exclusively about business:

“If Dubai opens the market for vaccine travel, we will sell tickets there as well”.

The last coronavirus year was also difficult for the World Visitor, which specializes in group travel. According to the tour operator, Russian partners helped them conclude contracts with three private clinics in Moscow, which have a special permit from the Ministry of Health. The 57-year-old Bavarian himself is now in Turkish Antalya, from where he organizes trips, the German magazine notes. He said he could count on 60 doses.

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