The shipment of the CoronaVac jab manufactured by the Chinese company Sinovac marked the single largest batch of a coronavirus vaccine airlifted to Armenia so far.
“Hard times reveal true friends who join forces to fight against the pandemic,” the Chinese Embassy in Yerevan said, announcing the shipment on Friday.
Armenia received 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on March 28 and 43,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V jab in the following weeks.
The government’s vaccination campaign launched on April 13 has attracted little public interest so far. According to Health Minister Anahit Avanesian, only about 3,000 Armenians making up roughly 0.1 percent of the country’s population received a first vaccine dose as of May 2.
“We are calling on our fellow citizens to actively apply to policlinics and get vaccinated,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian wrote on Facebook after he and his wife were inoculated on Monday morning. He warned that countries around the world may ban unvaccinated foreigners from entering their territory later this year.
Pashinian repeated the warning when he spoke in the Armenian parliament later in the day. He said vaccinations are also important for attracting more tourists to the country.
“In Yerevan and other popular parts of Armenia we can already see tourists, and if we properly organize the vaccination cycle we could regain the [tourism] volumes of 2019,” he said.
Answering a question from an opposition lawmaker, Pashinian pointedly refused to reveal the type of the vaccine which was injected into him at a state-run medical center in Yerevan. “I can only say that one of the deputy prime ministers was vaccinated with AstraZeneca while the other will get Sputnik V,” he said.
Many Armenians seem wary of getting AstraZeneca shots because of recent reports linking the vaccine to a rare blood clotting disorder. Both Pashinian and Avanesian insisted last week that the risk of such side-effects is minimal.
The vaccinations were initially limited to medical workers, seniors and chronically ill people aged 55 and older. They are eligible only for the AstraZeneca vaccine. For safety reasons, younger people deemed most at risk from the coronavirus are offered Sputnik V.
Later in April, Avanesian allowed medical workers to administer AstraZeneca shots to all people willing to take them. According to the health minister, the use-by date of the first batch of the British-Swedish vaccine is May 31.
The Armenian authorities are trying to speed up their vaccination campaign despite a steady decrease in daily coronavirus cases reported by them over the past week. The Ministry of Health said on Monday morning that only 145 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the past day.