Kazakstan’s Covid-19 Strategy: Vaccination Passports and QR Codes

Authorities will have to overcome anti-vaccine sentiment to implement digitised schemes.

Kazakstan’s Covid-19 Strategy: Vaccination Passports and QR Codes

Authorities will have to overcome anti-vaccine sentiment to implement digitised schemes.

Chief sanitary doctor Yerlan Kiyasov.
Chief sanitary doctor Yerlan Kiyasov. © Kazak Ministry of Health
Thursday, 11 February, 2021

Kazakstan has begun to roll out its mass coronavirus vaccination scheme in the face of deep public scepticism over the efficacy or safety of the vaccine.

The process began with 22,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, which arrived in the country on January 31. Further doses will be manufactured in Kazakstan, and from March the plan is to use the Kazak-made QazCovid vaccine, currently in its third phase of clinical trials. The US Pfizer vaccine should arrive in the country in the second half of this year.

“The vaccination is free for the population,” chief sanitary doctor Yerlan Kiyasov told journalists last week. “The prime cost of a two-dose vaccine is 26 US dollars today. This price is constant, regardless of the producing country – Russia or Kazakstan.”

He added that if at least 50 per cent of the population had immunity to coronavirus, the country could return to normal with no restrictions, quarantines or lockdowns.

However, the population of Kazakstan has a generally negative attitude towards vaccination. It remains voluntary according to Kazak law, and so far about 17,000 people have refused to be vaccinated

The government is planning to monitor compliance via a number of systems. Kiyasov said that Kazakstan would be introducing a digital certificate for those who had been vaccinated, which he said was simply an upgraded version of the long-established already practice of vaccine passports. In this case, however, it will be a domestic system that will dictate, for instance, whether citizens can access services such as education.

The government is also to roll out a QR codes system in which people will need to download an app, register and enter their individual identification number. They will then be given a colour code to dictate their status.  

Those with confirmed Covid-19 receive a red code, which restricts their access to public places. Yellow is for those who have had contact with an infected person, blue for those who have not yet taken a test and green assigned to citizens who have recently tested negative.

The theory is that this will allow healthy people to go to gyms, shopping centres, restaurants and movie theatres without restrictions.

However, the scheme met with an outcry on social media, and on February 3 activists gathered near the capital’s ministry of healthcare demanding that the QR codes be banned.

To reassure the population, Kiyasov and the vice-minister of health, Azhar Giniyat, were the first people in the country to publicly receive the Russian Sputnik V jab. The next tranche were public health doctors in large cities, who reported no ill effects.

“I was vaccinated because I work with people, and visit people infected with Covid,” said Yerkin Usenuly, a paramedic. “After the vaccination, I do not feel any unpleasant symptoms.”

Despite this, many remain concerned about the safety and effectiveness of the various vaccines.

Healthcare expert Alfiya Smagul claimed that no vaccine has yet proved to be immediately effective, let alone provide long-term protection or herd immunity.

“I see no epidemiological reasons for mass vaccination,” she said. “If they vaccinate, then it should be only certain high-risk groups of the population.”

Smagul said that she did not trust the vaccine to be manufactured in Kazakstan, since the country lacked production experience. The efficiency and safety of the American vaccine could not be proven since not enough time had passed, she continued, while in Russia, there was no transparency in the methodology of clinical trials.

However, according to the Lancet scientific journal, Sputnik V has an effectiveness of 91.6 per cent.

On December 21, 2020, during a visit to the Karaganda pharmaceutical production complex, Prime Minister Askar Mamin officially launched its production, with two million doses to be produced within five months.

Russian specialists had already audited the facilities, trained personnel and introduced updated equipment. The first 90,000 doses will be ready in February with another 150,000 in March, and subsequently 500,000 each month.

The Kazak government has been negotiating with the Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac Biontech as well as the American company Pfizer to purchase their vaccines, and in the meantime is moving forward with its own QazCovid research.

Kazak officials have said that QazCovid’s vaccine platform is safe and has been extensively used as part of other vaccines. The only new component is the inactivated virus.

“It is safer than other types of vaccines,” Lespek Kutumbetov, a leading virologist at the government’s biological research institute, told the Kutumbetov press service. “In addition, it creates the same strong immunity as immunity of a person who has been infected, and this immunity is very strong and complete.”

Ultimately, though, implementation will depend on citizens agreeing to be vaccinated.

According to Marat Ayaganov, a restaurant owner in Nur-Sultan, the main incentive wasthe idea of returning to life without quarantine and restrictions.

“It will help not only us, but all organisations and enterprises to work to a full extent,” he said. “Of course, there is fear; it is natural. We are all afraid of the unknown, but I have more fear of getting infected with coronavirus.

This publication was prepared under the "Giving Voice, Driving Change - from the Borderland to the Steppes Project" implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

Support our journalists