Crossroads Asia | Society | Central Asia

Vaccinations Progress Slowly in Central Asia

For myriad reasons, vaccination programs in Central Asia are proceeding slowly. Hesitancy is one factor.

Vaccinations Progress Slowly in Central Asia
Credit: Depositphotos

Kazakhstan is a regional leader on vaccinations, but that’s not saying terribly much as vaccine rollouts across Asia have proceeded at slow paces relative to Western countries. Meanwhile, reports from Kazakhstan cite bureaucratic hurdles, hesitancy, and a lack of access to data about the country’s domestically-developed vaccine.

To date around 8.3 percent of the Kazakh population, or around 1.4 million people, have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. That figure has grown at a steep curve in recent weeks on the back of the availability of domestically produced doses of the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, in addition to imported doses. 

Last week, Kazakhstan began administering doses of its domestically-developed vaccine, QazVac. But RFE/RL’s Farangis Najibullah outlined today in an article, some are leery of the domestic vaccine because there is not much data publicly available about it. Kazakhstan’s state-backed Research Institute for Biological Safety Problems developed the vaccine and claim it has a 96 percent efficacy in phase two trials. Phase three trials for the vaccine aren’t expect to finish until July. 

Lesbek Kutymbetov, one of the developers of QazVac, reportedly received the very first shot in its early trials. Per RFE/RL, Kutymbetov explained the lack of published information about the vaccine by saying the developers “don’t have time…to write articles.” Without the published data from the first and second phases, external experts are wary, but anecdotes at vaccination sites from RFE/RL and Reuters suggest that individuals queuing for the vaccine don’t necessarily care which they receive.

Kazakhstan is also set to use a Chinese-developed vaccine manufactured in the United Arab Emirates under the name Hayat-Vax, the first doses of which just arrived in the country. Hayat-Vax is same as the Sinopharm vaccine but manufactured by a joint venture between the Chinese company and G42, an Abu Dhabi technology company. 

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

According to data compiled by Our World in Data, Kazakhstan’s vaccination rate (8.3 percent as of May 5) is on par with rates in Russia (8.7 percent) and India (9.4 percent), and higher than rates in more developed, wealthier Asian countries like South Korea (6.9 percent) and Japan (2.2 percent). Kazakhstan is also ahead of regional neighbors Kyrgyzstan (.41 percent as of April 28) and Uzbekistan (1.8 percent as of April 27). (Note: Our World in Data does not have official data from Tajikistan or Turkmenistan to compare).

There are myriad reasons for this. For example, availability of supplies is a serious issue impacting the pace of vaccination campaigns, especially in countries without domestic manufacturing capabilities. In addition, differences in government vaccination programs, particularly eligibility requirements and staffing and facility availability could hamper rollouts. Finally, hesitancy is also a factor contributing to slow vaccination rates.

According to a recent Gallop poll, 68 percent of adults in the world would agree to be vaccinated if a vaccine were available to them, and free of cost. That leaves 32 percent who would choose not to be vaccinated. Gallop points out that the 68 percent figure falls short of the 70 to 90 percent experts estimate would be needed to achieve global herd immunity.

The polling results indicated that people in Eastern Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union were the most likely to be hesitant. When asked “If a vaccine to prevent coronavirus was available right now at no cost, would you agree to be vaccinated?” only 25 percent of Kazakhs surveyed responded “yes” and 61 percent said “no.” In Kyrgyzstan, people are almost evenly split per the survey results, with 41 percent saying they would take a vaccine, and 45 saying they would not. Hesitancy is less prominent in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In Tajikistan a majority, 64 percent, said “yes” and 28 percent said “no.” In Uzbekistan, 70 percent said they would take the vaccine, while less than quarter, 23 percent, of people said they would not. (Note: “Don’t know” and “refused” account for the remaining percentages).