Until a month ago, just a few thousand people had been vaccinated in Armenia. After a statement by Prime Minister Pashinyan, the campaign finally took off, but the issue remains highly divisive in the country
Vaccinations against coronavirus started in Armenia last April, using Oxford's AstraZeneca, Russian "Sputnik V", and Chinese "CoronaVac". Vaccination is free, voluntary, and many hesitate.
The third wave of the pandemic is fading in the country. The number of cases and deaths is decreasing day by day. If a month ago about 1000 new cases were registered daily, today the number is about 100. Overall, about 223,000 cases of coronavirus have been registered in Armenia so far, and the number of deaths has exceeded 4,000.
As a result, the dedicated medical centres – there were 23 with 2600 beds, 13 in the capital and 10 in the regions – are closing. 4 out of 10 have already been closed, and patients will be transferred to nearby regions or the capital.
The only possible way to avoid the 4th wave of the pandemic is vaccination, specialists keep reminding.
“I have not been vaccinated yet, I will definitely be vaccinated in the near future, but I haven’t decided yet by which vaccine. We cannot overcome the pandemic without being vaccinated”, says medical worker Sanam Hovhannisyan, adding that it is very important for citizens to have a chance to choose.
AstraZeneca and CoronaVac, used in Armenia, are available to everyone, regardless of age, while the Russian vaccine is available to vulnerable groups of citizens aged 18 to 54 years.
“There is a fear of vaccinations in Armenia. That's why the process is slowing down. The reason for all this is the lack of awareness of the people and the anti-vaccination campaign”, notes public health specialist Davit Melik-Nubaryan.
“I hope the vaccine will never become mandatory, otherwise I do not know what I will do”, says Anna, 30, who fears the vaccine will only hurt her. Anna points out that the vaccine has not been fully studied yet; its effects in the long term cannot be determined.
“It protects me from COVID now, and what then? No one can say that it does not cause side effects. For example, I am about to become a mother. There are a lot of materials on the Internet that vaccines cause infertility. I know that these claims are not scientifically proven, but that makes me insecure”, she says.
Anna is worried that if she is not vaccinated, she will not be able to go to many countries, e.g. Europe. “I understand that step by step a 'green passport' will become mandatory. I understand very well that if I do not have it, I will probably be confined in Armenia. And this makes me very sad. I had planned to visit Europe at the end of the year, but now it turns out that if I am not vaccinated, I will not be able to. I convince myself that it’s OK. I think these requirements will soon be removed”, Anna notes.
Unlike Anna, her sister got vaccinated a month ago. She says she feels very well and should take the second dose of the vaccine soon. “My acquaintances are divided: one half fears that vaccination is bad, the other half thinks that without vaccination we can never fight this pandemic. Only few friends of mine want to be vaccinated”, she says.
At a government meeting about a month ago, in order to intensify the vaccination campaign in Armenia, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan urged members of the government to get vaccinated. “Let's start from us. We all need to be vaccinated. The number of vaccinated citizens in the world today is a sign of the quality of the country in all respects – economic, political, civilc”, the Prime Minister noted.
This statement was followed by mass vaccination of state representatives. Ministers, deputies, and other high-ranking officials rushed to get vaccinated and post pictures of the process.
Citizens can be vaccinated both in medical facilities and at mobile vaccination centres located in crowded areas of the capital Yerevan and other major cities. Here, every citizen can get a triage and a medical examination, and then get vaccinated. About 30,000 people have been vaccinated in Armenia, against a population of over 3 million, while only 2,690 people had been vaccinated before the Prime Minister's statement.
Medical workers note that the number of people wishing to be vaccinated is growing day by day. At mobile vaccination points, tourists are often vaccinated as well, also for free.
In parallel, the limitations are being eased as well. Wearing a mask is no longer mandatory in open areas from June 1st, and for vaccinated citizens wearing a mask in closed areas will not be mandatory from July 1st.