YEREVAN — A Swiss Air cargo plane landing at Armenia’s Zvartnots International Airport on Monday, March 29, delivered a large shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine. The package contains at least 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which Armenia had applied for as part of the World Health Organization’s COVAX Facility initiative earlier this year.
The shipment, which was initially expected in mid-February, had been delayed due to disruptions in the global supply chain. The already-slow vaccine delivery process had been postponed even further when larger recipients such as Germany and France began emulating smaller countries in suspended acquisitions of the Swedish-British brand. This temporary ban, claimed to be over safety concerns related to the vaccine, is being investigated by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
At a press conference held in Yerevan on Monday, Deputy Director of the National Centre for Disease Control Gayane Sahakyan discussed the health concerns with WHO representative in Armenia, Yegor Zayts. Both speakers insisted that the vaccine was totally safe.
National Centre for Disease Control experts say that at this stage, the elderly and healthcare workers will be prioritized as the vaccine enters widespread distribution. Vaccination for private citizens will remain voluntary.
The delays in shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine have pushed Armenia to negotiate the purchase of larger shipments of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to keep up inoculation rates. Armenia had previously imported some 2,000 doses, which were mostly administered to volunteers and healthcare workers. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan also brought up the topic during a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A large shipment of the Sputnik V vaccine will thus also be expected “in the near future.”
Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan insisted, during a recent question period at the National Assembly, that “Armenia is fully committed to ensuring the process of obtaining vaccines through various platforms including bilateral negotiations with producers and through international agreements.”