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How “Vaccine Diplomacy” will Affect Kyrgyzstan?

Kyrgyzstan will vaccinate its population with vaccines provided free of charge by Russia, China and international donors.

Kyrgyzstan is getting 500 thousand doses of Sputnik V vaccine from the government of Russia free of charge. Photo: RIA Novosti

Ministry of Health is getting ready for vaccination and has approved the three-stage vaccination plan. So far, the Russian vaccine is the first registered COVID-19 vaccine before the third stage of vaccine trials. Kyrgyzstan has received a positive reply to its request for 500 thousand free doses of Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.

In early February, the ambassador of China in the Kyrgyz Republic Du Dewen during the meeting with the foreign minister of Kyrgyzstan said that China would provide its vaccines to the Kyrgyz party as humanitarian aid. It is still unknown which of the three known Chinese vaccines will be provided and in what quantities.

Kyrgyzstan is expecting nearly half a million free doses of vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford university scientists under the international coronavirus vaccination programme – COVAX. 

According to the experts, in such cases global powers first support their traditional allies and the countries where they try to keep or increase their influence. Therefore, it is no surprise that Kyrgyzstan has received support from Russia and China.

On the other hand, if Kyrgyzstan ignored the medications developed by those countries and preferred only “Western vaccines”, Moscow and Beijing could interpret it in their own way, which could cause negative aspects in bilateral relations. Bishkek has never been in such a situation to afford marring relations with such influential partners in the region.

Humanitarian aid from China during coronavirus last year. Photo: Chinese embassy to the Kyrgyz Republic

Meanwhile, medical experts objectively note that the Russian Sputnik V vaccine is quite suitable for Kyrgyzstan in terms of delivery and storage. Chinese vaccines, depending on their type, need to be studied more thoroughly. However, we know in general that all three types of the vaccine are modest in terms of storage compared to the Pfizer, which Bishkek has refused to store due to the lack of special refrigerating equipment.

Kyrgyzstan will get the British vaccine, AstraZeneca, under the international programme COVAX under the auspices of the World Health Organisation. It would be incorrect to seek double meaning in this decision as the country will get this vaccine as a humanitarian aid from WHO for poor states. This humanitarian aid will be distributed to dozens of developing states in the world, like Kyrgyzstan.

Thus, Kyrgyzstan has successfully diversified deliveries of coronavirus vaccine, almost equal in volume (half a million doses of Sputnik V and British AstraZeneca, the number of the Chinese vaccine is unknown), and has not caused anger of its key foreign political partners.

Another question is whether it will stop supplies of free vaccines or Kyrgyzstan will have to pay for the “free gift”? For example, by buying another batch of these vaccines for a fee not to hurt their influential foreign political partners?

Since the end of 2020, Kyrgyzstan has started to study vaccination offers both free and paid. Pfizer was suggested for the republic under the COVAX programme of the World Health Organisation, when countries in need are provided with a particular number of vaccines. However, the country has found it unreasonable to choose Pfizer.

According to the estimates of the Ministry of Health, it will take at least two million dollars less transportation costs to use the vaccine. The vaccine must be stored at -70 degrees, while Kyrgyzstan has no such refrigeration equipment. Health minister Alymkadyr Beishenaliev urged the journalists and the public not to think that the refusal of the American vaccine was politically motivated.  

COVAX is a programme to provide vaccines to poor states via the UN. Photo: Unicef.org

Later on, it was announced that the choice was made in favour of the Oxford vaccine AstraZeneca. In March, the country is receiving 504 thousand doses of the vaccine under the COVAX programme. The vaccination by the Oxford vaccine will cover 20 per cent of the Kyrgyzstanis. 40 per cent of all vaccines will be received in the first quarter, and the rest will be delivered in the second quarter of 2021.

Another vaccine proposed to the country on a free of charge basis was the Chinese medication. It is still unknown which vaccine will be provided to the republic and in what quantities. But the widely known Chinese vaccines are the medications manufactured by three pharmaceutical companies: Sinopharm, Sinovac and CanSino.

The third proposed vaccine is the Russian Sputnik V. In January 2021, Kyrgyzstan requested 500 thousand doses of the Russian vaccine and the request was approved during the visit of President Sadyr Zhaparov to Russia.

The medication was criticised by The Lancet medical journal for no outcomes of the third phase of clinical trials. But in early February, preliminary results of the third phase of the Russian vaccine trials covering 19 thousand 866 individuals were published. According to Russian scholars, the vaccine efficiency was 91.6 per cent, whereas no volunteer had serious side effects.

According to the latest data, the Department of Drugs and Medical Devices of Kyrgyzstan issued a registration certificate for Sputnik V, a combined vector vaccine preventing the coronavirus infection.

However, no medication has passed a final research phase. In this regard, some medical experts cast doubt.

According to the infectious disease physician, COVID-19 consultant Dilshat Mamazhanov, if this vaccine proves to be potent, it can be used.

“If the vaccine is kept in undue conditions, reverse effect may follow,” he said.

Bermet Baryktabasova thinks that vaccine developers rush into holding all required trials. Photo: Sputnik.kg

The expert of evidence-based medicine, Bermet Baryktabasova, said that the coronavirus vaccine is being developed too quickly, all required procedures are being expedited, and the countries developing the vaccine compete with each other. Eventually, the quality should not be affected, she said.

“The world is now divided into “33 opinion groups”, but what’s most important is that people have choice,” said Baryktabasova.

According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, 30 countries of the world approved the use of Sputnik V as of February 19. Most of them are the countries with low and medium income levels beyond the European region.

Despite the wide use of the vaccine, Sputnik V is not approved by the European Medical Association, which coordinates vaccination in the European Union.

Nevertheless, Kyrgyzstan is planning to vaccinate by the Russian medication as well.

“This would be the first stage. We are getting the vaccine very soon – before March 15. Once we get it, we’ll start the vaccination. The health ministry has already developed a plan and determined the categories of people who will be vaccinated first,” press secretary of the president Galina Baiterek said.

Political analyst Mars Sariev. Photo courtesy of Kaktus.Media

Some political analysts explain the choice of the Russian medication by geopolitical considerations, including the membership in international organisations.

According to political analyst Mars Sariev, the republic is linked with Russia in terms of geopolitics, and is the member of such international associations as CSTO and EAEU. This fact has affected the choice of the vaccine.

“If the western vaccine is chosen, this will have an impact on our relations, as the situation is about big money. This is a global politics.  Another point is a pharmaceutical company. Our people will tend to choose the Russian vaccine as it is big money, and millions will be vaccinated. It’s a struggle between mega corporations, which is focused on politics,” he said.

At the same time, according to Sariev, Kyrgyzstan won’t survive without Russia’s economic assistance.

“Russia delivers oil products and gas from Russia at their domestic prices, and our migrant workers [in aggregate] transfer 1.5 billion dollars at an average,” Sariev said. “We have many such moments that affect us. We will not have such a support as long as we have a debt to China.”

Medet Tyulegenov. Photo courtesy: IWPR

According to another expert Medet Tyulegenov, Russia is trying to use its vaccine as soft power.

“Kyrgyzstan has refused to use the western vaccine and many people began to interpret it as a political gesture. Russia is trying to promote its vaccine, but I haven’t noticed tough pressure from it to make their vaccine exclusive,” he said.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.

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