The vaccinations targeting only frontline workers, seniors and people suffering from chronic illnesses began in Yerevan on Tuesday and other parts of Armenia the following day.
The authorities are currently using 24,000 doses of the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca’s vaccine which were delivered to the country on March 28. Only people aged 55 and older are eligible for the vaccine jab because of lingering questions about its safety.
Younger people deemed most at risk from the coronavirus will be offered the Russian Sputnik V vaccine later this month. Armenia received 15,000 doses of the jab on April 8.
Health officials acknowledged that even vulnerable Armenians are in no rush to take free vaccines despite a high rate of coronavirus infections.
Yerevan’s Policlinic No. 13 administered its first vaccine shot on Thursday. Its director, Ruzan Durgarian, said policlinic staff are now busy phoning residents of surrounding neighborhoods eligible for the first vaccinations and inviting them to the medical center. So far, she said, most people have declined the invitations.
“Some people say they don’t want to be vaccinated while others say they have heard bad things about that or claim they are allergic to vaccines,” explained Durgarian.
Many of the elderly and middle-aged people randomly interviewed in the streets told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that they are ready to be vaccinated.
“I’m afraid [of taking a vaccine,] but both I and my husband have already been infected and know what a tough experience it is,” said one woman.
Another woman said she does not trust Armenian health institutions and plans to get a Sputnik shot in Russia. “I don’t know what they inject here,” she said.
Another pensioner did not trust the coronavirus vaccines. “I’m afraid of dying,” she said.
Concerns about the AstraZeneca jab’s presumed dangerous side-effects appeared to be one of the reasons for the slow pace of vaccinations.
Health Minister Anahit Avanesian again downplayed the risk of a rare blood clotting disorder linked to the vaccine when she spoke in the Armenian parliament on Thursday.
“Many countries have resumed use [of the AstraZeneca vaccine] but changed age thresholds [for its recipients,]” she said, arguing that the Armenian government has done the same to minimize the health risk.
Avanesian reiterated that the government’s objective is to have between 600,000 and 700,000 people vaccinated within a year. She said this will be enough to develop herd immunity against COVID-19 in the country of about 3 million.
The Armenian Ministry of Health reported, meanwhile, 1,014 new single-day coronavirus cases and the deaths of 30 more people infected with the disease. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths thus reached 4,781, according to the ministry.
Armenia is currently grappling with a third wave of infections that began in late February. Critics blame the resurgence of COVID-19 on the authorities’ failure to enforce their physical distancing and sanitary restrictions.