Vaccinating Central Asia and the South Caucasus

Vaccinating Central Asia and the South Caucasus

Eurasianet reports on vaccinating from Central Asia and the South Caucasus in July.

AZERBAIJAN

Approved: Sinovac, Sputnik V, AstraZeneca and Pfizer

Who's eligible: All adults.

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.

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. The Health Ministry announced on July 2 that people who had their second shot more than six months ago are now eligible for a third. 

ARMENIA

Approved: Sputnik V, AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac

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. On July 1, all adults became eligible. Armenia has begun producing Sputnik V under license from Russia, Ekho Kavkaza reported on July 1. The first batches must undergo tests before being distributed. 14,000 doses of Sputnik V arrived from Russia on May 11. Another 60,000 doses of Sputnik V arrived on June 19. 50,000 AstraZeneca doses arrived through the international Covax program on May 17. 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: Infections are rising again while the rate of vaccination has fallen from about 2,000 per day to 1,500 in recent weeks, said Gayane Sahakyan, the deputy director of the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on June 22. On July 1, masks for vaccinated people became optional indoors. They had been optional outdoors for the previous month. Companies close to senior Health Ministry officials have enjoyed lucrative contracts during the fight against coronavirus, Civilnet reported in a detailed June 16 investigation.

GEORGIA

Available: AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinopharm, Sinovac

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. One million doses of Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines arrived in Georgia, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced on July 2. 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. Cases are rising again. More than 400 tourists have tested positive over the last month, the head of the National Center for Disease Control, Amiran Gamkrelidze, said on June 29. Some were carrying the virus when they arrived in Georgia; others tested positive after they had entered the country. Vaccine reluctance is widespread.

KAZAKHSTAN

Available: Sputnik V, QazVac, Sinovac, Sinopharm, Hayat-Vax (which is Sinopharm made in the UAE)

The government on July 1 introduced new rules requiring most people working in contact with the public – anywhere from government offices and stores to leisure facilities – to show evidence of vaccination before being allowed into their place of work. Meanwhile, a thriving black market has developed for fake vaccination certificates, making it impossible to know how many people have been jabbed with the real thing. Almaty's top doctor said on July 2 that a fourth wave had started in the country with the rapid spread of the Delta variant.

Domestic vaccine controversy: Kazakhstan introduced a homegrown vaccine, QazVac, in April and said it was 96 percent effective months before third-stage clinical trials were completed. It has been dogged by controversy as local scientists say they want to see clinical data. 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. 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. The first 500,000 doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine arrived in Kazakhstan on June 1, Interfax reported. Clinical trials of another domestic vaccine, known as QazCoVac-P, have begun, Azatlyk cited officials as saying on June 16.

Slowly, though vaccine hesitancy (at least for Sputnik V) appears to be falling. At the current pace, Vlast.kz reported, the government’s goals will be met in July 2022, not this September as promised. A study published by the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in June found official media reports about coronavirus one-sided and incurious. Surveying articles in state-run Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, the authors find the paper living up to its Soviet-era reputation: It largely parodies government sources, while its "journalists are not taking the initiative and are not looking for independent experts." The authors suggested the paper get some English speakers and invite doctors to write. The Health Ministry confirmed the presence of the feared delta variant, also known as the Indian strain, on June 21, TASS reported. Kazakhstan will no longer try to purchase AstraZeneca’s vaccine, citing negative publicity, state media reported on June 4.

KYRGYZSTAN

Approved: Sputnik V, Sinopharm

Infections have been rising rapidly again in June and hospitals are running out of spaces. Kyrgyzstan is expected to have the world’s highest COVID-19 mortality rate this summer, according to a June article in The Lancet. Kyrgyzstan’s health minister on June 29 ordered all medical workers to be vaccinated, Kloop.kg reported. 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. Kyrgyzstan has agreed to buy 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China, Kloop.kg reported on June 30. They should be shipped with 150,000 doses that China has been promising to donate since May 12.

The country received 40,000 doses of Sputnik V in April and May that were quickly distributed to people over age 65. 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. Nothing public has been said since. Kyrgyzstan dropped age restrictions for receiving Sputnik V, 24.kg reported on June 25, though doses can be hard to find.

Kyrgyzstan has approved the Sputnik Light vaccine, which is a single dose of Sputnik V rather than the usual two, Akipress reported on June 25. A shipment of 420,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot has been chronically delayed. Turkey's health minister said the country would conduct third-stage clinical trials of its Turcovac in Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Hungary, 24.kg reported on June 24. Kygyzstan's health minister appears to be part of the problem: Alymkadyr Beishenaliyev is at the center of regular controversy. 

In April he and the president alarmed doctors by recommending coronavirus patients consume a brew made with a poisonous root, aconitum (or wolf's-bane). Within days, several people were admitted to hospital for poisoning. On May 31 Beishenaliyev told a parliamentary committee that clinical trials conducted with up to 400 people in Kyrgyzstan had shown aconitum improves immunity and clears phlegm from the lungs, Kloop.kg reported. He also said it can stop a stomach tumor from growing. 

A few weeks later, on June 25, Beishenaliyev confirmed he had contracted coronavirus, but that he was feeling well after drinking his poisonous concoction. In different interviews, he could not keep straight how many Sinopharm shots he had had and suggested it was not creating antibodies. 

After Beishenaliyev said on June 22 that Kazakhstan was ready to send 50,000 vials of its domestic QazVac jab (after saying he "thought about asking for 500,000 doses"), Kazakhstan’s deputy prime minister refuted the claim, saying June 24 that Kazakhstan will not have doses available for export for several months, at least.

How's it going: Not well. The government on June 24 said it was investigating construction of two liquid oxygen plants. Economy Minister Akylbek Zhaparov has proposed withholding the salaries of civil servants who are unvaccinated, Kloop.kg reported on June 25. A government website has begun issuing vaccination certificates, Kloop.kg reported on June 28, but it requires a cloud-based electronic signature that can only be set-up by visiting a government office.

TAJIKISTAN

Administering: AstraZeneca, Sinovac

The government's line: After months of insisting they had won the battle against COVID-19, authorities finally caved to reality on June 21, confirming the virus is again in the country. The Health Ministry had been refusing to recognize cases, instead calling them "tuberculosis" or "seasonal pneumonia." In late May, a doctor was even fired for reporting a case. On June 25, Tajikistan dropped to 18 years the age requirement for vaccination, Ozodi reported. The government does not regularly publish figures on the number of vaccinated people. 

Vaccinations began on March 22 with 192,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made in India and received through the Covax program. State news agency Khovar on June 20 reported that China had delivered 300,000 doses of its Sinovac vaccine as humanitarian aid. The doses have been earmarked for people over age 60. 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.

TURKMENISTAN

The government insists the country has never registered a single case of coronavirus. Azatlyk's correspondents in Ashgabat on June 25 reported surging cases of what the authorities describe as "pneumonia," with overcrowded hospitals and increasing restrictions. The president instructed the Health Ministry to purchase 1.5 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, state media reported on June 28. 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." 

UZBEKISTAN

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

Infections have more than doubled in the last two weeks, Gazeta.uz reported on June 21. On June 23, authorities reported that the Delta strain was in the country. On July 2, the mayor of Tashkent reopened field hospitals for COVID patients.

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. 6.5 million doses had arrived as of June 30. 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 140,000 doses of Sputnik arrived in June. Authorities expect a second shipment of 660,000 AstraZeneca doses in August, RIA Novosti reported on June 14. People over the age of 50 and university professors became eligible on June 22. Previously, in addition to people over age 65, writers, journalists and students studying abroad were able to get a shot. The government hoped to vaccinate 4 million people by the end of June. Supermarkets began offering shots on June 27. The government introduced new restrictions on accessing the capital from June 28 to July 12. Hours before the went into effect, Ozodlik reported, traffic jams many kilometers long were encircling the city. Businesses are under increasing pressure to vaccinate their employees with the Sino-Uzbek shot. Despite government assurances that inoculation is voluntary, sometimes it appears to be mandatory, Ozodlik reported on June 30, 

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. Archived vaccine dashboards are here: April 2021, May 2021, June 2021. 

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