New infections reported remain relatively high at over 500 per day, but rose from over 2,000 at the end of October.
About 15% of the population is now doubly vaccinated, up from 5% when new restrictions were introduced on October 1.
However, Armenia remains the country with the lowest vaccination rates in the country in the Caucasus region, with its coronavirus deaths averaging over 30 per day – a significant number considering its population of just three. millions of inhabitants. It has one of the highest per capita death rates in the world, according to the Our World in Data website.
Under the new rules, most unvaccinated public and private sector employees were required to take a PCR test twice a month at their own expense, with prices running at around $ 20 each time – a significant sum given the average monthly salary of just over $ 400.
However, a recent rule update means that PCR tests must now be performed on a weekly basis. From January 1, a health passport must be presented to access cultural and leisure venues.
“Vaccine skepticism has a history in Armenia”
Dr Gayane Sahakyan, who manages Armenia’s national immunization program, said the country aims to have at least 50 percent of the population vaccinated with at least one dose by the end of the year.
However, she said widespread misinformation and politicization of the problem continues to increase distrust of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Vaccine skepticism has a history in Armenia, it is a bit politicized. If a political party wants to generate opposition to the government, it uses vaccination and COVID-19 is no different, ”said Dr Sahakyan.
“The main concern of people is safety and efficacy because these are new vaccines. Some think they are too new, others that they are a global tool of population control. In Armenia, the only new thing here is that political parties are now using doctors to deliver this message. “
According to local media, doctors and healthcare professionals have played a key role in spreading misinformation about the safety and role of COVID-19 vaccines.
One of those doctors, a sex pathologist called Samvel Grigoryan, tried to give weight to a conspiracy theory that circulated widely during the pandemic, claiming that vaccines were created with technology used for genetic engineering and could put in place. danger to reproductive health.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control said there was no evidence that new COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility.
Grigoryan has been a vocal critic of the health ministry since he was fired from his post as director of an HIV center in 2020, media.am reported.
He and other critical doctors are affiliated with initiatives such as Free Will, a group created by right-wing politicians to fight the government’s vaccination efforts.
Dr Sahakyan said that Sinopharm is more reliable in Armenia than other vaccines, such as AstraZeneca, because people think the side effects are milder.
At the end of November, Poland donated more than 200,000 AstraZeneca injections to the country to help it fight against the mixed reception of vaccines. However, as locals do not trust the British vaccination, as well as other vaccines produced in the West such as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, most have gone to vaccinated tourists from countries like Iran, a said Dr Sahakyan..
“We never had complete information”
Armenia’s vaccination campaign is also hampered by the health problems of the elderly and the fallout from last year’s war with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
Stress caused by border skirmishes and feelings of insecurity have left residents near the area apathetic in the face of the pandemic.
Many Armenian citizens are divided by the current measures, arguing that they are either too harsh or do not go far enough to curb the high death rates.
Hasmik Sargsyan, 55, a teacher in rural Aragatsotn, said it had become difficult to decipher fact from fiction as the government did little to address popular concerns.
“The information the government gives on television and on the Internet is so limited and difficult to understand,” she said.
Sargsyan, who had COVID-19 in August, has not yet been vaccinated but plans to receive the vaccine in the coming days, relying on her children to guide them.
“Some doctors in our hospitals worry us more about vaccines, while government officials tell us to rely on consultations with doctors. There are rumors about side effects everywhere and we have a lot of questions, but no one is ready to answer. It’s hard to distinguish what information is reliable and what we need to be careful about, ”she said.
Mariam Ghazaryan, 24, who works as a saleswoman at one of Yerevan’s largest bookstores, said people did not comply with COVID-19 restrictions such as wearing masks, putting her at risk every day.
“I see around 400 to 500 people in the store a day and ask most of them to put on a mask. Young people are the most reckless; every time I ask them the question, they react negatively like they don’t care. Many don’t even believe COVID-19 exists at all or behave like it’s all a game, ”she said.
Ghazaryan also contracted COVID-19 earlier this year, but has since been vaccinated with Moderna. She said little has been done to ensure people adhere to COVID-19 measures in public spaces.
“Personally, I don’t think anything bad about vaccines, but the government campaigns have not been implemented as they should have been. It was done poorly – we never got complete vaccine information and you can’t figure out how to read the news feed to get the full picture. “