To Sputnik V or to AstraZeneca? Armenia gets new batches of Covid vaccines amidst public skepticism
Vaccination in Armenia
On April 8, the first purchased batch of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine was delivered to Armenia. These 15,000 doses are intended for risk groups.
Previously, only high-risk health workers were vaccinated – those who serve patients with coronavirus. To this end, the Russian side provided Armenia with 2,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccine for 1,000 people free of charge.
On March 28, the first batch of the British-Swedish vaccine AstraZeneca, against coronavirus AstraZeneca – 24,000 doses was also delivered to Yerevan.
AstraZeneca is currently the most widely-used coronavirus vaccine in the world; it has received approval by government authorities in 49 countries, while Sputnik V is the second most widely-used, approved in 45 countries.
The first case of coronavirus infection in Armenia was registered on March 1, 2020. From March 16 to September 11, 2020, the state of emergency was in force. Then, a quarantine was introduced in the country, which will last until July 11, 2021. Over the past day, 1,231 new cases of infection have been registered. In total, there are 200 129 infected people in the country, 179,043 recovered, 3,675 died.
All the details – who will receive the vaccines in the first place, what the doctors say and how the residents of the country feel about the imported vaccines.
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At the end of March, when the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccine was delivered to Yerevan, alarming information about it appeared at the same time.
7 British residents who were vaccinated against the coronavirus with a vaccine produced by Oxford University and the AstraZeneca company died of thrombosis, and later a nurse died after vaccination in Georgia. Vaccination with AstraZeneca has been partially suspended in some countries.
Then there was information that, in total, thrombosis in the UK occurred in 30 people out of 18 million UK citizens who received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Armenian doctors have not shown alarm over these cases; Deputy Health Minister Gevorg Simonyan says that the data on the effectiveness and safety of this drug meet the criteria of the World Health Organization.
From April 5, the AstraZeneca vaccine was to be delivered to the capital and regional polyclinics of Armenia.
Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan explained this by the fact that the causal relationship of the side effects caused by the vaccine has not been proven:
“We will use all vaccines recognized by international professional organizations as effective, safe, meeting all established standards. A number of countries temporarily stopped using a certain batch of AstraZeneca, a number of countries started using it again, and a number of countries did not refuse at all.”
The chairman of the parliamentary commission on health care Narek Zeynalyan, commenting on the attitude of people towards side effects, said that a large queue of people wishing to be vaccinated has already formed in Armenia:
“No vaccination in Armenia has been and will not be compulsory, [it will] only be voluntary. At the same time, it is necessary to conduct an informational educational program among the population in order to show people that vaccination is the only solution in the fight against the virus.”
Egor Zaitsev, WHO Representative in Armenia, also stated that the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective and safe. According to him, WHO does not see the connection between vaccinations and cases of thromboembolism.
The Ministry of Health reports that the received batch of vaccines is provided for the following risk groups:
- health workers
- citizens aged 65 and over
- people with chronic diseases aged 16-64
- employees of social institutions (including nursing homes)
About the Sputnik V vaccine
While the doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are already being distributed to the clinics, the Russian Sputnik V was delivered to Yerevan only on April 8, although negotiations on its purchase had been going on for a long time and were successfully completed in March.
The Russian side had problems, according to representatives of the Armenian Ministry of Health, with the production of the drug.
On April 7, at a meeting with Russian President Putin, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Yerevan expects to purchase over a million doses of the Russian vaccine. Putin assured that problems with the production of the drug are being resolved.
A million vaccines are not yet available, but the first batch of 15,000 doses was delivered to Yerevan the very next day.
The expert commission, which included a pediatrician, immunologist, allergist, infectious disease specialist, neuropathologist and resuscitator, studied all the vaccine data that Armenia intended to purchase. According to her conclusion, Sputnik V has good performance.
“In case of vaccination, only local reactions are observed, the temperature rises up to 38 degrees within one or two days,” said the chairman of the commission Anna Chobanyan.
Social media reacts
The opinions of users of the Armenian segment of Facebook regarding which vaccine to choose are divided.
Here are some comments:
“Half of Europe, including the state co-developer Sweden, has suspended vaccination with AstraZeneca due to unexplored side effects, and we are, as always, ahead of the rest.”
“The main question is on what basis this vaccine was purchased, the use of which has been suspended in half of Europe due to serious concerns about its safety. Someone got a kickback or was the purchase made at a serious discount?”
“From a common WHO statement, ‘the benefits of using the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks.’ So there are risks. They will test it on us”.
“I’d rather inject myself with this vaccine than with Putin’s fuflomycin.”
About the situation in clinics
Over the past month, a large number of new coronavirus infections have been recorded daily in Armenia. In this regard, according to the Minister of Health, during this week the number of beds in clinics will be increased by another 300.
“The number of beds is not infinite, and at present, mainly those patients who need inpatient treatment, need oxygen are hospitalized,” Anahit Avanesyan said.
At the moment, there are enough ventilators. During the year, as the minister said, Armenia additionally purchased 15 oxygen stations and the necessary equipment, about 3000 beds were provided with oxygen devices.
In addition, Armenian-made artificial lung ventilation devices are completely ready for clinical trials, certification and production. Former Minister of High-Tech Industry Hakob Arshakyan wrote about this in March, before his resignation on his Facebook page.
“If their safety and effectiveness are confirmed, they will be used. I cannot say how long the certification process will take, but our doctors also work together with them,” said Minister of Health Anahit Avanesyan.