YEREVAN — Armenia launched an large-scale COVID-19 inoculation drive on Tuesday, April 13, following months of delay. According to Health Minister Anahit Avanesyan, the elderly, vulnerable and essential workers will receive priority as the country continues to face the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Public health authorities will be administering the British AstraZeneca and Russian Sputnik V vaccines in the initial stages; Armenia having recently secured large quantities of both. However, following concerns by European regulators that AstraZeneca may be linked to blood clots among a small minority of recipients, the shot will be limited to those above 55 years of age. The Sputnik V vaccine will thus be reserved for older people until further research confirms that the British shots are safe for all.
In the meantime, Armenia is negotiating the purchase of a much larger shipment of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia. Last week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the country was ready to buy “at least a million doses” to meet its vaccination targets.
The Russian State-owned news agency TASS also reported that the two countries are also in talks to produce the Russian vaccine locally in Armenia. Avanesyan was quoted in stating that investments in the country’s pharmaceutical infrastructure would be required in order to launch mass production.
In the meantime, Armenia is also close to securing a supply of the vaccine produced by the Maryland-based American pharmaceutical giant Novavax through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, as well as an undisclosed amount of the Chinese Sinovax. Beijing’s donations come as Chinese officials publicly admit that their vaccines have lower efficacy than previously claimed, now stating that their indigenously produced alternatives are about 50 percent effective. Unlike the mRNA vaccines developed by western manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer, Chinese viral vector, and protein-based vaccines are harder to scale. Additionally, China has been accused of engaging in a practice dubbed “vaccine diplomacy”, in which free vaccine deliveries are prioritized for countries which have strong strategic relationships with Beijing, or in exchange for certain concessions, leading some to question the terms of Armenia’s involvement with the program.
Still, by relying on different sources of procurement, Armenia hopes to be able to vaccinate some 700,000 people — a quarter of its population — by the end of 2021.