Russian Firms Lure Vaccine Skeptics With Snowmobile Raffles
(Bloomberg) -- Russian industrial giants, facing a third wave of Covid-19 infections that threatens to undermine the economic recovery, are trying to buy their way to herd immunity.
Alrosa is raffling a snowmobile and Hyundai Solaris for workers who get vaccinated, Evraz and Severstal enter them into lotteries for cash and other prizes, Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel offers an extra day off after the shots, and Phosagro lets employees jump to the front of the line to qualify for all-expense paid trips to resorts.
The largess has helped boost the percentage of inoculated employees at big companies to above the national average, but shows the limits of corporate policy to overcome the government’s inability to convince people that domestically-developed vaccines are safe. That failure is contributing to a new outbreak of Covid-19 nationwide that has pushed new infections to a five-month high.
“Corporate efforts are great, but they prove that without persuading, promoting and pushing, many people will refrain from getting the shots,” said Denis Volkov, director of the independent Levada Center pollster.
The corporate push is significant because Russia remains dominated by large companies, with nearly half of working-age Russians employed by medium-sized and big business, according to the country’s statistics agency.
However, the authorities are being forced to step in as Russia faces an increasingly dire Covid-19 outbreak, fueled by the spread of the highly-contagious delta variant. Last week, Moscow ordered mandatory shots for 2 million workers and several other regions have since followed suit.
The slow national uptake has shown outreach “has not been as effective as we would have liked,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. However, there are no plans for blanket compulsory inoculations, he said.
Russian companies were early proponents of the Sputnik V vaccine, with many executives rolling up their sleeves for shots to lead by example. As supplies grew more widely available, many offered free vaccination at workplaces for employees and their families.
Only 12% of Russians have received at least one shot nationally. President Vladimir Putin has called for at least 60% of Russians to have immunity by fall, a level the U.S. and much of western Europe are already approaching.
While the Russian economy outperformed forecasts last year, the new spike in virus cases could weigh on demand in the third quarter, according to Bloomberg Economics analyst Scott Johnson.
“It is important for business to strengthen the shield against the third wave of the pandemic,” said Andrey Guryev, chief executive officer at fertilizer maker Phosagro, which has vaccinated nearly half of its 18,000 employees thanks to the incentives it offers.
Alrosa, the world’s biggest diamond producer, says over 10,000 employees have started the vaccination process and 29% of its workers are fully vaccinated.
“Vaccination is the only way to help prevent large outbreaks,” said Pavel Grachev, Chief Executive Officer at Russia’s largest gold miner Polyus. The company, which had an outbreak at its largest mine at the start of the pandemic, has inoculated 60% of staff and uses vaccination levels to rate management performance, Grachev said.
Still, distrust of the government and a lack of concern about the pandemic are keeping some people away. The Levada Center found that 55% of Russians aren’t afraid of getting Covid-19 in a May poll.
“Many say that until they get a clear signal from their employer or the government to do it, they won’t” get vaccinated, Volkov said.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.