The refusal to vaccinate Vladimir citizens should not be considered anti-vaccination, says Dmitry Petrosyan, sociologist, PhD in Philosophy, Associate Professor of Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. The reason for the mass unwillingness to get vaccinated is a significant lack of trust in the authorities. Will the new acting governor Alexander Avdeev be able to overcome this situation? ProVladimir talked about this with a scientist.
This article is the third material based on the results of the conversation with Dmitry Petrosyan. Earlier we wrote about the sociology of hopes and values of Vladimir’s young generation. The first part of the conversation was devoted to the upcoming reform of municipal power, as well as the changes that occurred with the departure of Governor Vladimir Sipyagin.
ProVladimir: Vladimir Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration has been studying the social well-being of Vladimir residents for several years already. What did the year 2021 show us?
Dmitry Petrosyan: What worries me most of all, and what, in my opinion, worries people, is a monstrous increase in mortality. Because the kind of surplus mortality growth that we continue to have… Every month we get statistics that are worse than the previous month and worse than the previous year. We had a 15% increase in mortality for 2020, now we’re already at 17% and the increase continues. This is a monstrous growth, which leads to depopulation, while the birth rate is also falling.
It has to do with the coronavirus in one way or another. The growth began in May. Naturally, the cause here is not only the coronavirus, but also the change in the medical situation. The shift of attention to the coronavirus has resulted in less attention being paid to traditional cancer and heart diseases, which give a large proportion of deaths. In terms of public opinion, this is reflected in the fact that we have growing fears. What comes to the forefront is the loss of health and illness. Among the social problems is the problem of the quality of medical care. This is obvious.
The monitoring of social well-being that we conduct has for a long time shown very little variation in people’s attitudes. There was a certain attitude of people to the situation, to their life, to what was going on around them. Moods changed very little. It would seem that there are reference points that should sharply worsen [the mood], such as pension reform. But by and large there was no sharp decline.
In the summer of 2020, we even noted some growth in sentiment, which already from the current situation, when in 2021 there was a setback, we note a deterioration in all indicators. Social well-being became worse than in 2020. But at the same time, the deterioration has only led to a return to the numbers that were in 2019. That is, we paradoxically saw an improvement in sentiment in 2020 coronavirus, and now there has been a pullback. If there was no spike, there would have been a smooth straight line. How do you explain the rise in 2020? I attribute it to the fact that we polled in the summer specifically because of the coronavirus. Apparently, in the summer people felt that the lockdown was over, everyone started living normally, it lifted their spirits, because there was an overcoming.
The coronavirus worried many people, and most noted that, naturally, the pandemic had a negative impact on their lives. And when it was over, as it seemed at the time, people’s spirits seriously improved. But another year showed that nothing was over. We went on temporary lockdowns again, we didn’t have a decrease in the number of people getting sick. As a result, it turned out that already in 2021 we see that the mood is deteriorating and anxiety is increasing. There is an increase in fears, [negative] expectations for the future. People feel uncertainty about future developments. And whether or not it will ever end. And now people are starting to have a feeling of, “Is this forever?
New strains of the virus are emerging, and people have a feeling that they’re going to keep coming, and it’s going to be like this for a long time. Plus, it feels like politicians everywhere liked it too – they got extra powers. They can now close, open, allow, expand or narrow freedoms as they see fit. This applies to authoritarian regimes as well as to democratic ones.
But here we have a new problem with vaccination. We are faced with the unexpected phenomenon that our society is split over whether we should be vaccinated and how we feel about compulsory vaccination. Most people have a very bad attitude. They oppose compulsory vaccination.
ProVladimir: And what is it that the loyal electorate does not want, so to speak?
Dmitry Petrosyan: That’s the thing: if you look at who has already been vaccinated, and who calls for vaccination, it is precisely those who in the political sphere are Putin’s opponents. And the supporters, the nuclear electorate – they are the ones who are stubborn. And there are a lot of them. The authorities are at a crossroads – either to sacrifice the rating for the sake of vaccination and the fight against coronavirus, or to put the brakes a little bit and not to press, but to preserve the rating.
The way the public has behaved is a consequence of the propaganda system, which has long fostered this attitude in the loyal part of the public. People were told that there were conspiracies all around. That everyone is up to something. There are corporations that only think about how to make a profit. Politicians never tell the truth. And people listened and listened, immersed in this picture of the world. And when politicians tell them that they should be vaccinated, they react: “Well, how come, it’s a conspiracy.
The initial lack of a clear line on the progressive approach paved the way for an obscurantist perception of reality.
ProVladimir: Now, Alexander Avdeev, the acting governor, has a new deputy governor for social issues and a new director of the Health Department. They seem to have overcome this uncertainty as a united front. Each of them is calling on people to get vaccinated by example and by word. Are they doing it too late?
Dmitry Petrosyan: The question that arises here is, are these people an authority for the part that is not going to get vaccinated and sees calls to vaccinate as an invasion of the part of their freedom that they have outlined for themselves? Here we see clearly from the polls that the values of freedom of speech, political freedoms, rallies and meetings, freedom of religion, personal integrity-all of these things people have not often valued so highly because they are seen as an abstraction. Our rights and freedoms, which are written in the Constitution, are social and economic, and they must be ensured by the state. But it turned out that there is a certain barrier where people feel that their inviolability should not be violated. It literally comes down to their own bodies and their immediate environmental surroundings.
That’s why we have the most active protests are garbage protests. And when people are imposed that they have to put something not quite clear into their bodies at the behest of the authorities, then people begin to have certain doubts and ideas about what their rights and freedoms are. And what seemed to them to be an abstraction when it came to political rights and freedoms ceased to be an abstraction when it came to their own bodies. At the orders of your superiors, you have to go and inject something into yourself. In principle, this is not even classical convinced anti-vaxxerism, but a complex of all sorts of distrusts and fears, which are included in the moment that concerns oneself personally.
ProVladimir: Are citizens who consciously do not vaccinate against the coronavirus a broader group than the staunch anti-vaccinationists?
Dmitry Petrosyan: This is clearly a broader group than those anti-vaxxers, who have previously not consented to vaccinating children against literally any disease. Those who said it was chipping, and whatever else they said, are a very narrow stratum. Obviously, there is tacit opposition from a much larger part of the population, including those who didn’t tell anyone anything, but went and bought a certificate. But this is a clear distrust. And the leaders of this movement-the specific individuals who have been invited to take a tour of the “red zone”-they are just not anti-vaxxers. They don’t really trust both the vaccine and its effectiveness. We basically find ourselves in such an information field that opposing voices are heard simultaneously and with uniform loudness. Now they say that vaccination is the only salvation. And then they say nothing of the sort. People get confused, start looking for ways to avoid vaccination.
And this, as we see it, has nothing to do with the level of education or academic degrees. It can be people of completely different backgrounds. It’s not directly related to political views either. It’s just the level of enlightenment. I know a lot of educated people who cringe and say… There are also tragic examples, when famous people die who were not anti-vaxxers, but were not vaccinated. Then their relatives say that they persuaded these people, but they refused.
ProVladimir: How does this movement relate to political forces? Since the state is in favor of vaccination, the United Russia party supports it. But the CPRF, which is the main opposition, is not so clear-cut in this regard.
Dmitry Petrosyan: There is a split here. For one thing, we can see that the federal government pushes this down to the regional level, while the political class pushes it down to the level of employers. We see that the authorities, starting with the president and below, are not ready to take the responsibility to announce mandatory vaccination. Take it, issue an edict, introduce a new danger level, impose restrictions, introduce payments, as they do in some democracies. But there, the authorities feel, in principle, that the anti-vaccination minority is in the minority, the majority are vaccinated. The government feels the support of the majority and more easily goes for such harsh measures. Plus, there is a different level of responsibility and a different mechanism of responsibility – people there do not come to stay in office forever. In this sense, it is easier for them to take such responsible steps. In our country, the authorities are in no hurry to apply political will in this matter.
Now it has been shifted to the employers, who have been given the opportunity to fire those who are not vaccinated. Employers are not fools either, they understand that it is not quite legal. So in some places they tried to influence them, and in other places they didn’t. In schools, some teachers have been suspended, there is no such thing at universities. It also annoys people that different places have different rules, and politicians don’t take the responsibility they should.
Vaccination is one thing, but there’s also the issue of QR codes. They seem to be connected, but here people feel a kind of segregation, which they are also starting to oppose.
People are afraid that QR codes seem to be introduced temporarily, but then forever a person will get some sign that will distinguish some people from others. Plus, this is an opportunity for surveillance. Although, this is all quite naive in the context that everyone has smartphones and everything can be tracked.
Naturally, this is a defensive reaction of those who have not been vaccinated. The introduction of QR codes would immediately limit them drastically. But, on the other hand, as a person who has been vaccinated, should I get some kind of preference? Apart from the fact that I have protected my health.
This division into vaccinated and unvaccinated goes against both constitutional and legal rights. That is why we see that the discussion of some measures in this direction is constantly postponed. The authorities feel that there is quite a large group of stubborn opponents. The authorities are not ready to anger them.