Mass vaccination programme starts in Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan’s Covid-19 vaccination programme has started in Tashkent, Nukus and 12 regions across the country. In the first stage, vaccines are free and prioritised for clinically vulnerable groups and medical professionals.

Uzbekistan started the mass distribution of coronavirus vaccines on 1 April in Tashkent, Nukus and 12 other regional centres. It hopes to expand throughout the whole country including more remote areas by June. According to the ministry of health, the programme uses the Oxford-AstraZeneca (renamed Vaxzevria) and the Chinese-Uzbek ZF-UZ-VAC 2001 vaccines.

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The first phase of the vaccine rollout will prioritise medical personnel, people over the age of 65 and other clinically vulnerable groups. In an official statement, the deputy head of the Sanitary and Epidemiological Welfare and Public Health Service Nurmat Atabekov talked of how the country has prepared for the rollout, saying that “more than 4000 doctors and 11000 nurses have been trained in the vaccination process”.

After outlining the country’s plan until June, which includes vaccinating 142 300 people in 219 vaccination centres in April alone, Atabekov ended his statement with a message of hope: “A vaccine against coronavirus is the greatest achievement of modern medicine, and there is no reason to be sceptical of it.”

Two vaccines available

On 31 March 2021, the minister of health Abduhakim Xajiboev stated that as part of the rollout the country has secured 660 thousand doses of the Vaxzevria vaccine (AstraZeneca) and 1 million doses of the ZF-UZ-VAC 2001 through COVAX. The latter was developed by China’s Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical and registered for use on 1 March 2021. 

In addition, Uzbekistan will receive a further 2 million doses of the Vaxzevria vaccine between May and June, and 3.5 million doses of the ZF-UZ-VAC2011 between April and June through COVAX. Xajiboev also announced an agreement with the Russian Federation for 1 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

The Uzbek vaccine in a box. Uzbekistan is partly using it for its vaccination programme.

In an interview with the Uzbekistan 24 TV channel in early April, the minister of health spoke of the plan to vaccinate 4 million people by the end of June, over 11.5% of Uzbekistan’s 35 million population.

Speaking to Uzbek media-outlet Gazeta.uz on 17 March 2021, before the start of the vaccine rollout, Bahodir Yusupaliyev, the deputy minister of health, stressed that receiving the vaccination is entirely voluntary. The choice of which particular vaccine is taken is at the patient’s discretion: “if you want, have the AstraZeneca vaccine; if you want, have the Chinese vaccine; if you want, have the Chinese-Uzbek or Russian Sputnik V vaccines,” Yusupaliyev said. 

First dose of the Chinese-Uzbek jab

As the first vaccination centres opened, a correspondent from Gazeta.uz visited the clinic in which the first dose of the ZF-UZ-VAC 2001 vaccine was given to the clinic’s head doctor, Nargiza Xolmuxamedova. She told Gazeta.uz’s journalist that her clinic has two vaccination points with other mobile teams formed in order to vaccinate employees in hospitals, dental clinics and other medical institutions in the district. Upon getting the vaccine, she explained her decision: “As a leader, I have to be an example for my 152 employees in the clinic”.

Read more: Tajikistan declares itself coronavirus-free

The start of Uzbekistan’s vaccine programme comes as Tajikistan began its vaccination programme on 23 March 2021 with free doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine provided through the COVAX scheme. Earlier this week, Kyrgyzstan’s minister of health Alymkadyr Beishenaliev began the country’s vaccine rollout with the help of free batches of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

As it stands on 1 April 2021, Uzbekistan has reported a total number of 83,050 coronavirus infections, with 630 deaths.

Molly Arnold

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