Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a government meeting via video at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on January 13. Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to step up its inoculation efforts, launching a “mass vaccination” push that will start next week.

Russia began a “large-scale” coronavirus vaccination program, as Putin previously called it, in December — but it is not clear exactly how many people have been vaccinated as part of this drive. 

“I ask [you] to prepare the necessary infrastructure. Thank God, our vaccine does not require any unusual conditions for transportation, like [storing it at] -50 C, -70 C, everything is much simpler and more efficient with us,“ Putin said Wednesday in a televised government meeting. 

“So I ask you to start mass vaccination of the entire population from next week and build an appropriate schedule, as we do with other diseases, for example, the flu,” Putin added. 

Russia approved its first Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, in August. The news of its approval ahead of large-scale Phase 3 trials necessary to test its safety and efficacy drew considerable criticism from scientific and medical circles.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said that by this Thursday, an additional 600,000 doses of vaccine will be dispatched to the country’s regions. 

“By the end of January… there will be 2.1 million doses of vaccine, and we will seriously need to step up the vaccination campaign,” she added.

On Sunday, the head of Russia’s health regulator Rospotrebnadzor said that the new variant of coronavirus detected in the United Kingdom has been discovered in Russia in a patient who recently returned from the country. 

Speaking on Wednesday, Putin said he is “concerned” about the spread of coronavirus in the UK.

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