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Pashinian Deplores Armenia’s Slow Vaccine Rollout


ARMENIA -- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian receives a shot of COVID-19 vaccine in Yerevan, May 3, 2021

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Thursday lambasted health authorities and other state bodies over the continuing slow pace of coronavirus vaccinations in Armenia.

“Our vaccination numbers are bad, very bad, and you must not blame others,” he told government officials during a weekly session of his cabinet. “This applies to all people sitting in this hall.”

The Ministry of Health reported earlier this week that just over 517,000 vaccine shots have been administered in Armenia since the launch of its government’s immunization campaign in April. Only about 165,000 people making up less than 6 percent of the country’s population were fully vaccinated as of October 4.

Speaking during the cabinet meeting, Health Minister Anahit Avanesian acknowledged that the vaccination process remains slow despite having accelerated in recent weeks. She blamed that on individuals and groups “maliciously” spreading false claims about COVID-19 vaccines and their side effects.

Pashinian rejected the explanation. “I set a task for you,” he said. “Don’t tell me who is obstructing and who is not. Just go and accomplish it. I mean the Ministry of Health, other state bodies.”

The authorities, Pashinian went on, must use their “administrative levers” to speed up the process. He ordered law-enforcement authorities to crack down on medics who he said issue bogus vaccination certificates to individuals unwilling to get inoculated against COVID-19.

“Detain, arrest them,” he said. “Very strict measures must also be taken against those doctors who exploit the situation to not vaccinate people and to spoil vaccines.”

The government has already taken administrative measures in a bid to have many more Armenians get vaccinated. A recent directive signed by Avanesian requires virtually all public and private sector employees refusing vaccination to take coronavirus tests twice a month at their own expense.

The requirement took effect on October 1, prompting protests from some opposition politicians and anti-vaccine campaigners. Critics say, in particular, that many people can hardly afford regular coronavirus tests.

Pashinian dismissed such complaints, saying that they can avoid such expenditures by getting free vaccine shots.

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