Church and Pfizer: Georgia’s vaccine campaign fails

Published by JAM News, 30.07.2021

Diana Petriashvili

Failure of Covid-19 vaccination campaign in Georgia 

Georgian authorities announced that the country has already been swept by the “fourth wave” of the coronavirus pandemic but they are not yet ready to admit that the reason for today’s catastrophic situation is the failure of the vaccination campaign. Mediaset analyzed the reasons for the depressingly low rates of vaccination in the country. 

Today, only 4.1 % of the population is vaccinated in the country and this is the main reason for the worsening of the epidemiological situation.

In Georgia, with a population of 3.7 million, the daily increase in new cases has already exceeded 3,000 and an average of 20 people die every day. 

Waiting for Pfizer

Today, about 420,000 people have been vaccinated in Georgia. When discussions about a low rate of vaccination begin, the authorities nod on duty at the population – they say, it is not clear what else they need: there are four vaccines to choose from, a convenient online registration system, vaccinations were imported back in March, and today anyone over the age of 16 can get vaccinated.

But the reality is very different from the official declarations. Only Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines are really available to the general public, and only from the beginning of July, before that, they were in great deficit.

Of the popular Western vaccines, only AstraZeneca and Pfizer can be obtained in Georgia, but the first one is only available to those over 45 years of age, and the second, until recently, was in such a shortage that social media users turned to Facebook, trying to find out whether there is Pfizer in the country at all, or is it just another myth created by state propaganda?

That being said, Pfizer appears to be the most coveted vaccine; many people have been waiting for its appearance in Georgia for months and have not been vaccinated with anything else. The authorities seemed to deliberately warm up this standby mode, periodically issuing statements claiming that the next batch would arrive in the country very soon.

Naturally, no one counted how many of those who fell ill or died from the Covid-19 were people waiting for the appearance of Pfizer instead of being vaccinated with what was available – Chinese vaccines, the position of which in the generally accepted hierarchy of effectiveness is lower than Pfizer but which are also approved WHO.

After many weeks of waiting, usually, some (more often symbolic) doses of this vaccine were actually imported. Those ‘hungry’ for Pfizer simultaneously rushed to the registration site and brought it down. However, some lucky ones still managed to get the coveted reservation.

On July 23, the United States donated half a million doses of Pfizer vaccine to Georgia, and 163,000 people registered for this vaccine in Georgia in one day. It must be said that Pfizer is the only vaccine allowed in Georgia for the youngest category – adolescents aged 16-18 years old.

Myths, fears and Church

Independent health experts have repeatedly criticized Georgian authorities for their ineffectiveness in managing the epidemic. According to Zaza Tsereteli, senior adviser to the Norwegian Ministry of Health, this ineffectiveness is reflected in the fact that Georgian doctors did not bother to carry out a single information campaign on the need for vaccination:

“The only thing that can be used to counter the anti-vaxer movement is information. But the Georgian leadership has not done anything in this direction yet”, the expert said, speaking on the air of the Formula TV Channel.

Fears and myths about the side effects of vaccines have been circulating in Georgian society for a long time but until recently there was almost no information in the country that would clearly debunk these fears. The Georgian Ministry of Health just recently released data, according to which, the country has not recorded a single death from Covid-19 among those vaccinated with both doses of available vaccines (specifically the Sinovac and Sinopharm which were associated with gloomy rumors).

10% of conscious doctors

The most active anti-vaccination sentiment in Georgia is supported by the Church. It became the only institution in the country that did not openly comply with the quarantine requirements even during the first wave of lockdowns. Many Georgian priests keep this dubious palm to this day – they appear on TV and Facebook broadcasts and tell their audience about chipping and Bill Gates’ conspiracies.

Georgian anti-vaxers organized several protests and the most recent one, held in Tbilisi, was especially large in scale. 

Health expert Vato Surguladze, answering a question from TV Pirveli, said that there are many distributors of anti-vaccination ideas among medical workers:

“The main cause of fear is ignorance, so it is critical to talk to patients, to dispel their fears. I am afraid that there are not many specialists in Georgia now who could qualify as competent, pro-vaccine-minded people, even among doctors”.

According to official information from the Ministry of Health, there are 71,415 medical workers in Georgia. By June 20, the number of vaccinated among them reached 7,379 – a little more than 10%.

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