Vaccinating Eurasia — May

Dashboard: Vaccinating Eurasia — May: vaccine uptake, the latest case surges, and related news from Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

Published by Eurasianet, May 20, 2021

Approved: Sputnik V, AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech
Population: 3 million

  • The vaccination campaign, which began on April 13, got off to a slow start. Two weeks later, Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called the number of vaccinated “shamefully low” and urged all members of his government to get their shots within a week. Pashinyan himself was inoculated on May 3.
  • Armenia has taken the rare step of offering the vaccine to anyone, including foreigners, without registration. But the number of takers is still low, our correspondent reported on May 13. The health ministry is not regularly releasing figures for the number of Armenians to have received shots. 
  • During a visit to Yerevan on May 6, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the country would soon begin producing the Sputnik V vaccine. 14,000 doses arrived from Russia on May 11.
  • Fifty-six percent of Armenians will not seek a vaccine, CivilNet reported on April 19, citing a survey conducted by the Caucasus Research Resource Center. The survey found women and young people less likely to accept a jab. 
  • Acting Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan and Acting Minister of Health Anahit Avanesyan both publicly received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on April 28 to allay qualms about the shot. The next day Avanesyan said that she was feeling good and hoped her example would be contagious. Another 50,000 AstraZeneca doses arrivedon May 17.
  • Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan announced on April 14 that the government had negotiated to receive 1 million Sputnik V doses from Russia, Interfax reported. She did not say when they would arrive, though she said she hopes to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by the end of the year.
  • 100,000 doses of Sinovac are on their way from China, state media reported on April 30. It was not immediately clear if they were approved for use in Armenia.

Approved: Sinovac, Sputnik V and AstraZeneca
Population: 10 million

  • Azerbaijan began its vaccination campaign on January 18 with Beijing-based Sinovac’s CoronaVac, for which it has contracted 4 million doses. It has also been promised 506,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Covax; the first batch of 84,000 were delivered on April 4, the Health Ministry said.
  • Azerbaijanis over age 18 became eligible to receive a shot on May 10.
  • China has donated another 150,000 shots, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry announced on April 27 in a press release that stressed the doses were free, but did not say who made them.  
  • The first 40,000 doses of Sputnik V arrived from Russia on May 2. Baku has requested 300,000 doses. The vaccine became available for everyone over age 18 on May 18. State media reported that demand was high.
  • A group of paramedics in Baku went on strike May 6, claiming they had received neither the supplemental pay they had been promised nor adequate personal protection equipment, Turan reported
  • A nurse in Baku was arrested for falsely registering a patient as vaccinated, reported on April 24. Twelve doctors around the country were fired for issuing fake vaccination certificates, Turan reported on April 9. 
  • Azerbaijan will begin distributing the AstraZeneca vaccine on May 3 to people over age 60, state media reported on April 30. The country has received 84,000 doses through the COVAX program. 
  • President Ilham Aliyev has several times condemned what he calls developed countries’ “unequal and unfair distribution” of vaccines. 

Approved: AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinopharm
Population: 3.7 million

  • Georgia began its vaccine campaign on March 15 with 43,200 doses of AstraZeneca sourced through Covax. Another 29,250 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, also through Covax, arrived on March 25. 
  • Georgia began using the Sinopharm vaccine on May 4. The head of the National Center for Disease Control, Amiran Gamkrelidze, publicly received the jab the same day, Interpress reported. The country received 100,000 doses of the Sinopharm shot in early April. “The level of safety and effectiveness of this vaccine is very high,” Chinese Ambassador Li Yang told an April 5 press conference. In addition, 100,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine arrived on April 30. Li had said these would be a gift. The country will begin distributing the Sinovac shots to people over age 18 in late May, the deputy health minister said on May 18.
  • Employees in the tourism sector will become eligible this week, Sputnik Georgia reportedon May 17, citing Economy Minister Natia Turnava.
  • 43,000 more doses of AstraZeneca arrived on May 6. People over age 45 became eligiblefor the AstraZeneca shot on May 11.
  • Lithuania will donate to Georgia 15,000 doses of a vaccine approved in the EU, local media reported on May 14. 
  • As of May 10, over 82,000 people have registered on a government website to indicate a desire to be vaccinated, Interpress reported. Given a choice, the vast majority (74,340) requested the Pfizer shot. Pfizer and Tbilisi are negotiating 1 million doses to arrive in the country possibly as soon as the third quarter of 2021, local media reported on May 20.
  • Deputy Health Minister Tamar Gabunia said on May 5 that she expects Georgia to reach herd immunity by the end of 2021, when she believes 60 percent of adults will be vaccinated. She also said that she expects the number of COVID-19 cases to peak in mid-May. 
  • Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said he is negotiating with Pfizer for 1 million doses, Interpress reported on April 27. 
  • Georgia is considering cancelling curfew for the vaccinated to encourage uptake, RFE/RL reported on April 28. 
  • Vaccine reluctance is widespread, especially after a nurse died shortly after she received her first jab on television on March 18. Georgians were broadly hesitant even before the tragedy. One recent survey conducted prior to the nurse’s death showed that over a half of Georgians were reluctant to get the jab 
  • Vaccination began in the Russian protectorate of Abkhazia on May 12, Ekho Kavkaza reported. Everyone over age 18 is eligible. The region received 6,500 doses of Sputnik V on April 30.
  • Authorities in the Russia-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia began administering the Sputnik V jab on May 4, Ekho Kavkaza reported.

Approved: Sputnik V, QazVac, Sinopharm
Population: 19 million

  • The general population became eligible for vaccination on April 1. Our Kazakhstan correspondent describes the waiting, the bureaucracy, and the anticlimax of getting his Sputnik V jab in Almaty.
  • A nationwide poll of 1,100 Kazakhs released on May 7 found vaccine skepticism had dropped significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. 34 percent of respondents said they had changed their minds in favor of vaccination, while 30 percent said they had always wanted a shot. 32 percent said they do not plan to seek a shot and 12 percent said vaccination will make the situation worse. Asked which vaccine they were most confident in, only 1 percent said the Chinese Sinovac, compared to 62 percent for Russia’s Sputnik V, 12 for the domestic QazVac shot, and 2 percent for Pfizer (which is not available in Kazakhstan). The poll has an error margin of 3 percent.
  • Kazakhstan introduced a domestically produced vaccine, QazVac, on April 26. Health Minister Alexei Tsoi received the shot on live television. (He received his second dose on May 17.) By the end of the year, the country should be able to produce 500,000 doses per month, Deputy Prime Minister Yeraly Tugzhanov said on April 22. QazVac can be stored in a regular refrigerator and requires two doses three weeks apart. The results of third-stage clinical trials have not yet been released, but the government’s website says “its complete safety has been proven, the vaccine forms a strong immunity against coronavirus infection.” President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on April 23 that production would be increased until it is available for every Kazakh citizen. 
  • A beloved 77-year-old academic who received the domestic QazVac vaccine has complained of numbness in her legs since receiving the shot on May 5. When she tried to stand on May 10, she fell and broke her femur. 
    Her relatives are certain the numbness is connected with the shot, though the developers insist no such side effects were reported during clinical trials. The developers have been criticized for a lack of information on the shot. A May 6 RFE/RL article describes how limited information about the domestic vaccine is fueling skepticism. 
  • The Health Ministry released new mortality figures on May 18, almost doubling the number of deaths attributed to the pandemic to 6,495, cautioning that this is still likely an undercount.  
  • Kazakhstan is looking to a Russian-developed phone app to reopen after a year of mostly sporadic COVID-19 shutdowns. One health official said on May 13 that anybody who has received two shots of the vaccine will from July be exempt from all kinds of restrictions if they can show evidence via the Ashyq (Open) app. This waiver, which will free users from needing to undergo routine tests, will be valid for at least one year. Critics are concerned about privacy. 
  • A Kazakh vaccine developer is preparing to launch clinical trials of a second domestic vaccine, state media reported on May 20. 
  • A woman was detained in West Kazakhstan region for writing on social media that a police officer, who recently died of heart disease, had died after receiving his shot, TengriNews reported on May 12. 
  • Kazakhstan has increased the waiting period for the second shot of Sputnik V from 21 days to 45.  
  • A Sinopharm vaccine made in the UAE, marketed as Hayat-Vax, will become available in the capital on May 6, the Health Ministry said
  • The Health Ministry said on May 3 that people who are fully vaccinated can return to work. 
  • Kazakhstan is working on four other vaccines against coronavirus, state media reportedon April 30
  • Police are investigating media reports that a vaccine passport can be purchased in Almaty for 15,000 tenge (about $35). 
  • Medical students have complained their university is forcing them to be vaccinated, TengriNews reported on April 19.

Using: Sinopharm, Sputnik V
Population: 6.5 million

  • Kyrgyzstan began its vaccination campaign on March 29 with 150,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China. Initial interest was low, but enthusiasm picked up when the Russian Sputnik V jab became available on April 23 to people age 65 and older. A batch of 20,000 doses arrived on April 22 and was quickly depleted. Another 20,000 doses of Sputnik V arrived on May 10. Almost 1,000 doses of the popular jab were waisted in late April, authorities revealed on May 19. The health minister suggested a cleaning lady had unplugged the fridge where they were stored and denied rumors that the doses had been sold rather than spoiled. 
  • Meanwhile, the Sinopharm vaccine remains available for anyone over age 18 who wants it. As part of an aid package announced on May 12, China’s foreign minister promised to give Kyrgyzstan a second batch of 150,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine. But Kyrgyzstan must find a plane to fetch them, quoted the health minister as saying on May 20. The shot seems not especially popular: Bishkek has run out of Russian-made shots, but there are plenty of Chinese jabs left, a senior official said the same day.
  • Kyrgyzstan will use a $20 million grant from the World Bank to buy the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, Health Minister Alymkadyr Beishenaliev said on May 12, suggestingthat he would prefer Sputnik V, but that is not an option with these funds because it hasn’t yet been approved by the WHO.
  • Deputy Prime Minister Zhyldyz Bakashova said on May 18 that she «hopes» COVAX will deliver 420,000 doses «as soon as possible.» 
  • The AstraZeneca vaccine is expected in May. First Deputy Prime Minister Artem Novikov told parliament on April 28 that 40,000 doses of Sputnik V will also arrive in May, AKIpress reported. The country hopes to vaccinate at-risk populations by the autumn, he said.
  • Sputnik V purchased by the state (which says it has a contract for 1 million doses) is distributed for free. But if a private company is able to get its hands on the drug, it may sell it, the deputy health minister said on May 11.
  • In Bishkek the Health Ministry has begun piloting online registration for vaccine appointments, AKIpress reported on May 4.
  • An online (and thus not representative) poll of 3,100 Kyrgyzstanis conducted by the news agency found 75 percent would accept the Sputnik V jab, 5 percent the AstraZeneca shot when it becomes available, and only 3 percent would consent to taking the Sinopharm vaccine, which has been available since March. 17 percent said they would not be vaccinated, the website reported on April 26.
  • Kyrgyzstan’s president alarmed health specialists by recommending coronavirus patients consume a brew made with a poison root. In a bid to quell the outcry over those remarks, the country’s health minister, Alymkadyr Beishenaliyev, gathered journalists for a press conference on April 16 and drank the concoction in front of them. The president’s Facebook posts about the root were taken down that weekend; Facebook says it deleted the posts for spreading misinformation whereas the president’s office said he had deleted the posts himself. Within days, several people were admitted to hospital for poisoning. 
  • A survey by the Health Ministry with the support of the WHO found 55 percent of the population is willing to be vaccinated, Knews reported on April 6. The survey of 1,000 people found 18 percent reported having used antibiotics to prevent or treat coronavirus. Antibiotics do not work against viruses and misuse is dangerous.

Approved: AstraZeneca
Population: 9.3 million

  • Prime Minister Kohir Rasulzoda, during a meeting with his Russian counterpart in Kazan on April 29, asked for help procuring Russian shots, saying that Tajiks trust them more than what is currently available. Russia does not know when it will be able to deliver them, however, Russian state media reported on May 19. 
  • Several outbreaks of suspected coronavirus around the country are testing the authorities’ claims that Tajikistan has been COVID-free all year, RFE/RL’s Tajik service reported on May 19. Health Minister Jamoliddin Abdullozoda insisted on May 20 that there are no cases of coronavirus in the country, that lung ailments detected recently are just pneumonia. 
  • Vaccinations began on March 22 with 192,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made in India, known as Covishield, received through the Covax program. Tajikistan expects to receive about 20 percent of the doses it needs through COVAX and will need to purchase the rest. “Negotiations are currently underway with China and Russia and I am confident that vaccines will be imported from these countries in the near future,” Ozodi on April 18 quoted a Health Ministry official as saying.
  • The government does not regularly publish figures on the number of vaccinated people. 
  • The president on April 9 again insisted his country has registered no cases since early January and praised his decision to abandon quarantine last year, Ozodi reported, adding that many countries (he did not specify which) were studying Tajikistan’s experience fighting the virus.  

Approved: Sputnik V and EpiVacCorona 
Population: 5-6 million

  • Government officials still insist no cases of COVID-19 have appeared in Turkmenistan, despite ample evidence to the contrary. State media rarely mention the pandemic, vaccinations, or any facet of the crisis. 
  • Some 200 Turkmen citizens who had been stranded in Dubai were repatriated on May 14 and given the first shot of a two-shot Chinese vaccine before entering a 21-day quarantine. They will be given the second shot before being allowed to leave, RFE/RL’s Turkmen service reported on May 17.
  • Turkmenistan has received a “large” shipment of Sinovac shots, state media reported on May 10. It is unclear how many doses the shipment included, how they will be used, or if the state has approved the drug.
  • Doctors in Turkmenistan say that salary cuts are forcing them to seek alternative employment and contemplate emigration, RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, Radio Azatlyk, reported on May 14. Others complain they have not yet received the bonus promised them for working during the pandemic. 
  • The government is currently vaccinating teachers with the Chinese-made Sinopharm shot, RFE/RL’s Turkmen service reported on April 7. Medical workers and other first responders were vaccinated earlier. China claimed it had delivered a batch of the China-made Sinopharm vaccine on March 6. There is no indication the state has approved its use. 
  • RFE/RL has reported that the Russian-made Sputnik V shot is available for purchase; a full regimen costs approximately $285 at the official exchange rate.
  • Russian officials said Turkmenistan became the first country in Central Asia to approve the Sputnik V vaccine, on January 18. Later that month, Ashgabat approved use of EpiVacCorona, also produced by Russia.

Administering: AstraZeneca, Anhui Zhifei Longcom (China), Sputnik V
Population: 34.5 million

  • Uzbekistan has received 100,000 doses of Sputnik V as of April 27, the government said. Distribution to people over age 65 began on April 28. Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov asked his Russian counterpart to send more Sputnik V vaccines, reported on April 29. 
  • The country would like to buy China’s Sinovac shot, a government official said on May 14.
  • Uzbekistan is the only country in the region to extensively cooperate with China, conducting third-phase trials of the Anhui Zhifei Longcom jab over the winter. 3.5 million doses had arrived as of May 19. First Deputy Minister of Innovative Development Shahlo Turdikulova has said that she and her family were vaccinated with ZF-UZ-VAC 2001, which requires three shots over 28 days. On April 19, the Health Ministry announced the vaccine is effective against variants. The deputy health minister received the shot on May 3.
  • As of May 18, of the 1.35 million doses distributed, 62 percent were the ZF-UZ-VAC 2001, according to the Health Ministry. 
  • The government on May 6 denied rumors that Sputnik V is only available to officials, Podrobno reported. It is only available to people over the age of 65, a Health Ministry official explained, and the country has thus far received only enough doses from Russia to vaccinate 50,000 people. 
  • People under age 65 will be eligible «in the near future,» a government official said on May 10. She added that due to shortages of the AstraZeneca vaccine, those who have already received one dose will be prioritized when more arrives through the global COVAX vaccine sharing program.
  • The government hopes to vaccinate 4 million people by the end of June.
  • The head of an infectious disease hospital near Tashkent said the number of people under age 45 who are contracting COVID-19 has doubled recently, Ozodlik reported on May 3. He blamed the lack of masks. 
  • A survey conducted in late March on the Telegram instant messaging app found 44 percent of respondents would refuse vaccination. 34 percent said they would accept a Sputnik V jab and only 8 percent trusted the Anhui Zhifei Longcom shot.
  • Healthcare workers have told Radio Ozodlik that they are being coerced into receiving the vaccine. The government says the shot is voluntary. 

For several months during the initial outbreak, we chronicled daily news from across our coverage region. See our previous coronavirus dashboards here

The archived April 2021 vaccine dashboard is here

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