MOSCOW—A health official’s warning that anyone getting vaccinated against COVID-19 with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine should give up alcohol for almost two months has caused a backlash among some Russians who call the request unreasonable.
Anna Popova, head of the consumer health watchdog, told the Komsomolskaya Pravda radio station on Tuesday that people should stop drinking alcohol at least two weeks before getting the first of two injections. They should continue to abstain for a further 42 days, she advised.
Sputnik V, licensed under an accelerated process before the end of clinical trials, has been given to doctors, soldiers, teachers, and social workers in the first instance with a large-scale nationwide roll-out due to begin this week. There are 21 days between the two Russian vaccine jabs.
“This really bothers me,” said Elena Kriven, a Moscow resident. “I’m unlikely to not be able to drink for 80 days and I reckon the stress on the body of giving up alcohol, especially during what is a festive period, would be worse than the (side effects of the) vaccine and its alleged benefits,” she said.
Kriven was referring to the main New Year public holiday. Many Russians will spend the first 10 days of 2021 relaxing at home or abroad, a period associated with higher alcohol use.
Russians are among the heaviest drinkers in the world, though consumption has fallen sharply since 2003.
Popova warned alcohol would reduce the body’s ability to build up immunity to COVID-19.
“It’s a strain on the body. If we want to be healthy and have a strong immune response, don’t drink alcohol,” she said.
Her advice was contradicted by Alexander Gintsburg, the vaccine’s developer. The Sputnik V Twitter channel on Wednesday published his very different advice above an image of Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio raising a glass of champagne.
“One glass of champagne won’t hurt anyone, not even your immune system,” said Gintsburg.
He said it would be prudent to reduce alcohol use by a reasonable amount while the body built up immunity, but said there was no need to give up completely.
It was crucial however, he said, to refrain from alcohol three days before and after the two injections required. He said such advice was the same for anyone getting vaccinated around the world and not specific to Russia or Sputnik.
The topic generated lively discussion on social media.
“You should have spoken (about alcohol reduction) in the first place,” wrote one Facebook user, Pavel Goriachkin. “It’s absolutely impossible for most people in our country.”
Another user, Konstantin Roninyo, wrote: “Even I won’t sign up for this despite drinking rarely. Having a drink at New Year is sacred!”
Others said the contradictory advice and their own experience showed there was no need to follow Popova’s recommendations.
“I boozed like there was no tomorrow between the first and second jabs,” said one Moscow resident, who didn’t want to be identified. “And I’ve got antibodies coming out of my ears.”
By Polina Nikolskaya and Andrew Osborn