Kazakhstan’s struggle to motivate its citizens to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is leading to increased COVID-19 cases. In April 2021, 137,000 Kazakh citizens out of a population of 19 million received the first dose of the vaccine and less than half of those had received the second dose. Pressure from Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has helped increase the number of fully vaccinated citizens, but as of August 2021, only about 22% of the population is fully vaccinated.
The Kazakh President
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev expressed his outrage over the slow pace of vaccination. He warned both the health minister and his government, saying, “In April, you must turn the tide, otherwise a personnel decision that is going to be very disappointing for you will follow.”
Reasons for the Hesitancy
The country began administering QazVac, Kazakhstan’s domestically produced COVID-19 vaccine, before the completion of clinical trials. The Research Institute for Biological Safety Problems, a state-backed research center, assured the public that the vaccine is safe. However, many Kazakhs fear that the vaccine has not yet gone through enough testing. The QazVac vaccine finished trials in July 2021. However, some experts remain skeptical because these trials only included 3,000 people as test subjects, compared with approximately 43,000 Pfizer trial participants.
The Impact of Vaccine Hesitancy in Kazakstan
Kazakhstan’s recent struggle has included its largest economic shock since the late 1990s. The COVID-19 pandemic decreased economic activity worldwide, causing the price of oil to drop. As oil is Kazakhstan’s main export, the price drop caused its economy to contract by 2.5% in 2020. As a result, the poverty rate increased from 6% in 2016 to 12-14% in 2020, curtailing years’ worth of progress.
The pandemic has increased urban unemployment by halting travel and social outings, limiting jobs in retail, hospitality, wholesale and transport. According to the World Bank, these four main industries account for 30% of urban employment in Kazakhstan.
While poverty has surged in cities, the pandemic has hit rural areas even harder. World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan Jean-Francois Marteau has expressed that to combat this disparity, Kazakhstan needs to implement reforms focused on inclusive economic recovery and productivity. Long-term reforms will be necessary to alleviate Kazakhstan’s struggle as the pandemic’s economic impact will last two to three years.
Kazakhstan’s economic recovery is largely dependent on the world’s economic recovery. As COVID-19 cases decrease and countries lift restrictions, allowing travel and day-to-day activities to resume, oil prices will recover. Additionally, as more people become vaccinated and vaccines become more readily available and trusted, the spread of COVID-19 should slow. Retailers, restaurants and the hospitality industry will begin to reopen and managers will be able to rehire employees they had to let go due to lockdowns.
As this recovery takes place, predictions determine that Kazakhstan’s economy could grow by 2.5% in 2021 and 3.5% in 2022, providing hope to the nation.
– Lily Vassalo