Dashboard: Vaccinating Eurasia - May
Vaccine uptake, the latest case surges, and related news from Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
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.
What's available: 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 arrived 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.
- 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.
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.
Approved: Sinovac, Sputnik V and AstraZeneca
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. 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.
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.
A nurse in Baku was arrested for falsely registering a patient as vaccinated, Turan.az reported on April 24. Twelve doctors around the country were fired for issuing fake vaccination certificates, Turan reported on April 9.
- President Ilham Aliyev has several times condemned what he calls developed countries’ “unequal and unfair distribution” of vaccines.
- Azerbaijan will end its mask mandate on May 31.
- From June 10, Azerbaijan will require a vaccination passport for entry to gyms and recreational facilities, such as pools, Trend reported on May 26.
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.
- Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said he is negotiating with Pfizer for 1 million doses, Interpress reported on April 27.
- Employees in the tourism sector will become eligible this week, Sputnik Georgia reported on May 17, citing Economy Minister Natia Turnava.
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.
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.
Approved: Sputnik V, QazVac, Sinopharm
General population became eligible on April 1
Domestic vaccines: 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. The results of third-stage clinical trials are expected in late July and 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. But 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."
- Kazakhstan is also producing Russia's Sputnik V domestically. Almost 150,000 doses were shipped to the capital, Interfax reported on May 24. Kazakhstan has increased the waiting period for the second shot of Sputnik from 21 days to 45.
- 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.
- Kazakhstan is working on four other vaccines against coronavirus, state media reported on April 30. One developer is preparing to launch clinical trials, state media reported on May 20.
- A Sinopharm vaccine made in the UAE, marketed as Hayat-Vax, will become available in the capital on May 6, the Health Ministry said.
How it's going: The rate of vaccination is falling, Vlast.kz reported on May 24. At the current pace, the government’s goals will be met in July 2022, not this September as promised.
- 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 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. 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
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.
The Health Ministry said on May 3 that people who are fully vaccinated can return to work.
- 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
What's available: Kyrgyzstan has plenty of Sinopharm doses, but demand is for Sputnik V. That was evidenced in the first few weeks of the campaign, when only the Sinopharm shot was available; 150,000 doses had been donated by China. 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 and ran out on May 24.
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 Sinopharm. But Kyrgyzstan must find a plane to fetch them, Kloop.kg quoted the health minister as saying on May 20.
Only a week earlier Health Minister Alymkadyr Beishenaliev said Bishkek would use a $20 million grant from the World Bank to buy the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. Beishenaliev suggested he would prefer Sputnik V, but that is not an option with these funds because the Russian shot hasn't yet been approved by the WHO.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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 cases 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.
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 quoted a Health Ministry official as saying.
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's line: Miraculously, the country has never registered a single case of coronavirus.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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. 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 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: Uzbekistan has received 100,000 doses of Sputnik V as of April 27, the government said. Distribution to people over age 65 began the next day. Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov asked his Russian counterpart to send more Sputnik V vaccines, Kun.uz reported on April 29.
- 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.
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.
Cases across the region:
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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