Kyrgyzstan: Many older people do not trust vaccines because they are poorly informed

In Kyrgyzstan, HelpAge network member, Resource Centre for Elderly (RCE), is running a vaccination awareness campaign and helping the government reach all older people. Svetlana Bashtovenko, head of RCE, shares her experience on vaccination roll-out in Kyrgyzstan.



In Kyrgyzstan, HelpAge network member, Resource Centre for Elderly (RCE), is running a vaccination awareness campaign and helping the government reach all older people.

Svetlana Bashtovenko, head of RCE, shares her experience on vaccination roll-out in Kyrgyzstan.

“We are experiencing a severe shortage of vaccines. To-date, we have received about 190,000 doses through humanitarian aid from Russia and China, which will be enough to cover 95,000 people, which is about 3% of the population. And our government does not have enough money to buy the quantities of vaccines that we need.

In June, all vaccines ran out, which means that it is impossible for anyone to get vaccinated until the second batch arrives.

And even when available, the vaccine is not easy to obtain. People can sign up via the Internet, but, unfortunately, this is not possible for most older people. So, they just have to come to the hospital and wait their turn.

When the vaccination campaign began in April, huge queues lined up at the sites where the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia was being administered. People had to queue in the heat for three to four hours.

But people were reluctant to sign up for the Chinese vaccine. There is general mistrust of its quality, in the same way that people here do not trust the quality of Chinese goods. But in fact, both vaccines have performed well.

Awareness and distrust

In my opinion, the desire to get vaccinated among Kyrgyzstanis, including older people, depends on their awareness.

Some older people, especially those who are lonely, willingly seek vaccination, because they fear for their health and want to protect themselves from infection. Others receive and disseminate the opposite information amongst themselves; they say that vaccines are dangerous, cause negative health consequences, and that a vaccinated person dies within a year. There are a lot of such videos circulating on TikTok and other social media, along with conspiracy theories about microchipping.

I believe that the vaccination campaign must be supported with a broad awareness campaign that will motivate people to get themselves vaccinated, otherwise there will simply be no demand for vaccines.

Currently, RCE is working closely with specialists from the Ministry of Health and Social Development to raise awareness among older people about the importance of getting vaccinated. We are raising awareness among self-help group leaders, many of whom support the need for vaccination.

There are rumours that people will have to pay to get themselves vaccinated in the future. Given the budget deficit, the government is considering the possibility of commercial vaccination.

Data gaps

We have identified issues with reaching all older people with the vaccine in some areas, especially rural areas. The Ministry has approached us so that we can help them connect with the leaders of the older people’s groups and through them reach as many older people as possible.

Unfortunately, it is not that easy to say how many older people have been vaccinated. The Ministry of Health does not provide statistics on vaccination among older people without a special request.

Future perspective

To ensure a safe future for us, 70% of the population of Kyrgyzstan must be vaccinated. So far, Kyrgyzstan has only reached an agreement to receive 1.5 million doses which will only cover vaccine cover about 25% of the population. This is enough to vaccinate 750,000 people where we need to vaccinate at least three million people.

Kyrgyzstan needs more vaccines and a broader public awareness campaign, or vaccinations are doomed to fail.”

By Vitaliy Konovalov, Communications Manager