A Russian medic inoculates a woman with Russia's vaccine against COVID-19 disease at a clinic in Moscow on December 5. Photo by Maxim Shipenkov/EPA-EFE
Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Russia released new figures this week showing it had nearly 230,000 extra deaths through November compared with the same period in 2019, indicating the country's COVID-19 death toll is likely three times higher than reported, the deputy prime minister said.
Rosstat, the country's statistics agency, said 229,700 more people died in the first 11 months of 2020 compared with the first 11 months of 2019. Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova told state-run Interfax news agency that most of those extra deaths -- 186,000 -- are due to the novel coronavirus.
But because Russia's coronavirus crisis center uses narrow guidelines for how it counts its COVID-19 deaths, it's reported less than a third of that figure -- 55,000.
Russia has the eighth-highest number of deaths in the world, but the fourth-highest number of cases. The 186,000 figure, though, would give Russia the third-highest numbers of deaths behind the United States (337,000) and Brazil (191,000).
Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the country's lower fatality rate to boast of his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. At a year-end news conference earlier this month, he praised Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, which he said has 97% efficacy.
"Russia is the first country in the world, which has invented ... and started to produce [a] vaccine," he said. "And we have a good vaccine [that is] both safe and effective."
Though it's being publicly administered in Russia, Belarus and Argentina, the vaccine hasn't completed Phase 3 human trials. An international group of scientists raised concerns about the trials in September, saying they noticed several instances of apparently duplication in reports of human antibody response.