Vaccinating Eurasia – June
Vaccine uptake, the latest case surges, and related news from Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
Published by Eursianet.org
Jun 18, 2021The long wait (Kyrgyzstan presidential administration) https://e.infogram.com/ca8100a0-ba7c-4d29-8000-881490f1b58b?parent_url=https%3A%2F%2Feurasianet.org%2Fdashboard-vaccinating-eurasia-june&src=embed#async_embed
Approved: Sputnik V, AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac
Campaign began: April 13
Who’s eligible: 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.
- 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.
- 50,000 AstraZeneca doses arrived through the international Covax program on May 17.
- 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.
- Clinics in Yerevan began offering the Sinovac jab on May 24. 100,000 doses were reportedly shipped from China, state media reported on April 30.
How it’s going: Starting June 1, masks will be optional outdoors; on July 1, masks for vaccinated people will be optional indoors, the Health Ministry said on May 26.
- Companies close to senior Health Ministry officials have enjoyed lucrative contracts during the fight against coronavirus, Civilnet reported in a detailed June 16 investigation.
Approved: Sinovac, Sputnik V, AstraZeneca and Pfizer
Campaign began January 18
Who’s eligible: Azerbaijanis over age 18 became eligible to receive a shot on May 10.
What’s available: Azerbaijan initially contracted with Beijing-based Sinovac for 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; distribution began on May 3.
- China has donated 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 and another shipment of 40,000 doses arrived on June 10. 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.
- Two hospitals in Baku began offering the Pfizer vaccine on June 7, state media reported. There are 218,000 doses available.
How it’s going: 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.
- President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly condemned what he calls developed countries’ “unequal and unfair distribution” of vaccines.
- Azerbaijan will end its mask mandate on May 31.
Vaccine passport: From June 10, Azerbaijan will require a vaccination passport for entry to gyms and recreational facilities such as pools, as well as mosques, which will reopen that day.
Approved: AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinopharm
Campaign began March 15
What’s available: Georgia began with 43,200 doses of AstraZeneca sourced through Covax. 43,000 more doses of AstraZeneca arrived on May 6. People over age 45 became eligible for the AstraZeneca shot on May 11.
- 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 also began distributing the Sinovac shots to people over age 18 on May 24.
- Lithuania will donate to Georgia 15,000 doses of a vaccine approved in the EU, local media reported on May 14.
- 29,250 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, also through Covax, arrived on March 25.
- Civil.ge reported on June 4 that the Biden administration plans to include Georgia in its first donation of vaccines abroad.
How it’s going:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- The head of the National Center for Disease Control said on June 15 that people who had recovered from COVID-19 would become eligible for vaccination within four months, Interpressnews.ge reported.
Abkhazia/South Ossetia: Vaccination with Sputnik V began in the Russian protectorate of Abkhazia on May 12, Ekho Kavkaza reported. Everyone over age 18 is eligible, though uptake has been so slow (under 1,000 doses in the first two weeks) that the de facto prime minister said vaccination may need to become mandatory, Ekho Kavkaza reported on May 26. Authorities in the Russia-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia began administering the Sputnik V jab on May 4, Ekho Kavkaza reported.
Available: Sputnik V, QazVac, Sinopharm, Sinovac
General population became eligible on April 1
Domestic vaccine controversy: Kazakhstan introduced a homegrown vaccine, QazVac, on April 26, months before third-stage clinical trials are completed. Health Minister Alexei Tsoi received the shot on live television. (He received his second dose on May 17.) By the end of the year, officials say, country should be able to produce 500,000 doses per month. QazVac can be stored in a regular refrigerator and requires two doses three weeks apart. Limited information is fueling skepticism, though the government’s website says “its complete safety has been proven.” On May 28, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev told the head of the WHO about the vaccine. State media reported that Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “pledged to consider including it in the list of medicines the WHO recommended for emergency use.” After an Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting on June 16, President Tokayev tweeted that he is ready to share the vaccine with other members as soon as it is approved by the WHO.
A group of Kazakh scientists are concerned about the dearth of information on QazVac, stressing that they cannot endorse the vaccine until the developers release clinical trial data, TengriNews reported on June 7. They also say they don’t believe the developers’ assertion that they have sent a study to The Lancet for peer review and are challenging claims that the vaccine is 96 percent effective. Nevertheless, on June 10 Kazakhstan’s president said that he is ready to start exporting the domestic drug and pointed to the WHO head’s interest. Minister of Education and Science Askhat Aimagambetov defended the drug on June 11, saying that two international medical journals, which he refused to name, were reviewing studies on phases 1 and 2 of the clinical trials, Vlast.kz reported. Phase 3 will be finished in July.
- Kazakhstan is also producing Russia’s Sputnik V domestically. Almost 150,000 doses were shipped to the capital, Interfax reported on May 24; another 400,000 were distributed to other cities, Interfax reported on June 14. Kazakhstan increased the waiting period for the second shot of Sputnik from 21 days to 45. On June 15, state media reported on a shortage of second doses in Atyrau.
- A biopharmaceutical plant under construction in Zhambyl will begin tests in June, Interfax reported on May 25. The plant should be capable of producing 30-60 million doses of vaccine per year and will initially manufacture the domestic QazVac shot.
- Clinical trials of another domestic vaccine, known as QazCoVac-P, have begun, Azatlyk cited officials as saying on June 16.
How it’s going: At the current pace, Vlast.kz reported on May 24, the government’s goals will be met in July 2022, not this September as promised.
- Kazakhstan will no longer try to purchase AstraZeneca’s vaccine, citing negative publicity, state media reported on June 4.
- Kazakh COVID patients are 66 percent more likely to die if they are treated in a rural hospital compared with an urban one, a group of Kazakh researchers reported in BMC Infectious Diseases on May 20.
- 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.
- The first 500,000 doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine arrived in Kazakhstan on June 1, Interfax reported.
- Businesspeople in Karaganda are supplying food donations for officials to give residents as an inducement to get vaccinated, state media reported on June 2.
- In the first five months of 2021, Kazakhs paid more than 1.2 billion tenge ($2.8 million) in fines for violating quarantine rules, TengriNews reported on June 3. Most of the fines were assessed to businesses.
- Law enforcement has begun 103 criminal investigations into spreading fake information on COVID-19, Vlast.kz reported on June 14. Sentences have been handed down in five of them.
- After outbreaks at oil facilities last year, more than half of personnel at the Tengiz field in Atyrau have been inoculated, Interfax reported on June 18.
Vaccine passport: 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. The app crashed for a time on May 20, which authorities attributed to a surge in use. Up to 15,000 people can use Ashyq at the same time, authorities said.
- Kazakhstanis wishing to travel within the Eurasian Economic Union can now download the “Travel without COVID” app, Interfax reported on June 7.
Using: Sinopharm, Sputnik V
What’s available: Another 80,000 doses of Sputnik V, purchased by the Health Ministry, arrived on June 17 after the country ran out of jabs two weeks before. More shots are expected from China in mid-June. The Health Ministry said on June 15 that Kyrgyzstan had entered a third wave of COVID-19 cases, Radio Azattyk reported.
- Kyrgyzstan has asked neighboring Kazakhstan to supply it with vaccines, the health minister said on June 4: “We thought about asking for 500,000 doses; we hope they will give us 100,000.”
- A shipment of 420,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot has been delayed, the health minister said on June 4; it is now expected by the end of June.
- The country received 40,000 doses of Sputnik V in April and May that were quickly distributed to people over age 65.
- Demand for the Sinopharm vaccine was low until it was approved by the WHO on May 7, a health official said on June 2. 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 Sinopharm. Those have been repeatedly delayed. They are now expected by June 16.
- Vladimir Putin said on May 21 that Kyrgyzstan and Armenia may be able to produce the Sputnik V vaccine domestically, adding that Russia is the only country sharing such technology. Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov said he was eager to collaborate. Putin reiterated the idea in a meeting with Japarov on May 24 in Sochi. Kyrgyzstan’s ambassador to Russia said the Kyrgyz are eager for production of Sputnik V to start, RIA Novosti reported on June 7.
How it’s going: Kyrgyzstan’s president alarmed health specialists by recommending coronavirus patients consume a brew made with a poison root, aconitum (or wolf’s-bane). 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. Beishenaliyev has continued to insist the root has medical properties, despite frequent and growing calls for his dismissal. On May 31 he told a parliamentary committee that clinical trials conducted with up to 400 people in Kyrgyzstan had just shown aconitum improves immunity and clears phlegm from the lungs, Kloop.kg reported. He also said it can stop a stomach tumor from growing.
- Almost 1,000 doses of the popular Sputnik V 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. An MP said on May 26 that people are scared the vaccine will be used regardless. 80,000 doses were expected by the end of May; they had not arrived by May 31, 24.kg reported.
Polls: An online (and thus not representative) poll of 3,100 Kyrgyzstanis conducted by the 24.kg 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. 17 percent said they would not be vaccinated, the website reported on April 26.
- 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.
Began March 22
The government’s line: Officials have insisted since the start of 2021 that the country has registered no cases of coronavirus. Though infections appear to be washing through the country, doctors say they don’t bother with tests because state-run labs always find them negative, we reported on May 26, a day after a doctor was fired for reporting a case. President Emomali Rahmon said in April that many other countries (he did not specify which) were studying Tajikistan’s experience fighting the virus.
On June 14, the Health Ministry’s press secretary said that people who thought they had coronavirus were actually suffering from tuberculosis, Radio Ozodi reported. The next day, the ministry attributed the symptoms to “seasonal pneumonia.”
- A doctor at a hospital in the capital, Dushanbe, told Eurasianet on condition of anonymity on May 26 that two patients with suspected COVID-19 diagnoses have been admitted daily over the past week. 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.
- The government does not regularly publish figures on the number of vaccinated people.
What’s available: Vaccinations began on March 22 with 192,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made in India and 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 quoteda Health Ministry official as saying.
- 300,000 doses of the SinoVac jab are expected to arrive within days as humanitarian aid from China, an official from the Health Ministry told Asia-Plus on June 14.
- The Asian Development Bank will grant Tajikistan $25 million to procure 3 million doses and related supplies, the bank said on June 16.
- 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.
The government insists the country has never registered a single case of coronavirus.
- Little is known about how the vaccination program is going. The Health and Medical Industry Ministry has said that there are 18 dedicated vaccination points distributed around the health centers in the capital and in the regions. That makes roughly one vaccination-distribution facility for every 300,000 citizens.
- State media reported on May 22 that authorities have adopted a new plan providing for “widespread vaccination” in Turkmenistan. The government mouthpiece said the UN’s local coordinator had praised Turkmenistan’s “effective measures” toward vaccination. The government does not publish statistics on vaccinations and has refused to acknowledge the virus ever appeared in the country, despite widespread credible reports to the contrary.
What’s reportedly available: 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.
- 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.
- Russia is helping supply Sputnik V, RIA Novosti quoted the ambassador as saying on June 11. But he added that “right now the demand significantly exceeds supply.”
How it’s going: Doctors 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.
Administering: AstraZeneca, Anhui Zhifei Longcom (China), Sputnik V
Began April 28
Help from China: 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. 4.5 million doses had arrived as of June 10. 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 26, of the 1.2 million first doses distributed, 62.5 percent were the ZF-UZ-VAC 2001, according to the Health Ministry; 34 percent were AstraZeneca and 3.5 percent Sputnik V.
- Trust appears low: 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.
- The country would like to buy some of China’s Sinovac shot, a government official said on May 14.
What else is available:
- Another 70,000 Sputnik arrived on June 1 and another 70,000 on June 10.
- The government on May 6 denied rumors that Sputnik V is available only 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.
- The Foreign Ministry says it is negotiating with the Biden administration to receive vaccines from the United States, RIA Novosti reported on June 3.
- Authorities expect a second shipment of 660,000 AstraZeneca doses in August, RIA Novosti reported on June 14.
Who’s eligible: As of May 31, more people are eligible for vaccines. In addition to people over age 65, writers, journalists and students studying abroad may now get a shot.
- The government hopes to vaccinate 4 million people by the end of June.
How it’s going: 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.
- 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.