Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze told Rustavi 2 TV today that Georgia does not rule out suing COVAX, the UN-backed COVID vaccine sharing scheme, over allegations that the country failed to meet the platform’s requirements for receiving vaccines.
The Minister’s fiery remarks came after the Tbilisi-based Interpressnews agency quoted the COVAX today, saying that Georgia failed to meet mandatory criteria for receiving Pfizer vaccine, involving regulatory approval and signing a contract on the indemnification of the pharmaceutical company against potential vaccine-related adverse events.
“Unfortunately, all of these [allegations] might be used by our opposition during these politically trying times, to escalate tensions [and] polarization,” Minister Tikaradze went on, adding that the Health Ministry “will not allow the ordinary allegation to become a reason in benefit for the opponents.”
Deputy Health Minister’s Explanations
Georgia’s Deputy Health Minister, Tamar Gabunia also made an address earlier on March 1 over the reasons behind the delayed import of Pfizer’s COVID-19 jabs, and responded to the controversial allegations.
Deputy Minister Gabunia said that in mid-February when the country expected the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccine jabs, the COVAX notified the Georgian authorities that Pfizer had raised additional indemnification requirements that “has nothing to do with the country’s technical readiness for receiving the coronavirus vaccine.”
She noted that the Georgian authorities will discuss the company’s additional requirements about indemnification with both COVAX and Pfizer this week and only afterward, the negotiations will move to the final stage of payment.
Deputy Minister Gabunia said the talks are in their final stage with AstraZeneca, another pharmaceutical company, and the country will receive the first doses of its vaccine “within the next two or three weeks.”
The Deputy Minister did not specify when exactly the country will receive the first doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, saying that vaccination will begin in late March and the process will further accelerate in April.
She did not confirm media reports about the possible resignation of Amiran Gamkrelidze, Director of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC), or his disagreement with Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze, stressing that the Health Ministry has “constructive” cooperation with Gamkrelidze.
The Georgian government presented some of the “key aspects” of its national COVID-19 vaccination plan on January 21. The plan envisages immunizing approximately 60% of the population over 18 – 1.7 million citizens – by the end of 2021. The necessary costs will range from GEL 64.3 million (USD 19.5 million) to GEL 158.1 million (USD 47.8 million). Presenting the plan, Deputy Minister Gabunia said then that part of the necessary costs sufficient to cover 20% of the country’s population (700,000 persons) had already been paid to COVAX.
The Health Ministry has never specified an exact date of importing COVID-19 vaccines to the country; it, however, had claimed that the process of immunization would have started in mid-February. Later, the date was prolonged to late February. Recently, NCDC’s Amiran Gamkrelidze said that vaccination would be launched in the first two weeks of March.
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