MINSK, 26 March (BelTA) – Another coronavirus wave in Belarus will not be more intense than the previous one in the autumn of 2020, Belarusian Healthcare Minister Dmitry Pinevich told journalists on 26 March, BelTA has learned.
According to the Healthcare Ministry, COVID-19 cases exceeded 314,000 in Belarus on 25 March. The largest number of cases was reported in Minsk, Minsk Oblast and Vitebsk Oblast, the smallest - in Gomel Oblast and Brest Oblast. The average daily rate of coronavirus testing in March was 160 per 100,000 population.
On COVID-19 vaccination
In line with the National COVID-19 Vaccination Plan for 2021-2022, at least 60% of the country's population will get access to the immunization program in 2021.
The first stage of the program is underway in the country now. Vaccines are administered to people working in healthcare, pharmaceutical industry, education, as well as to social workers. Belarus uses Russia's Sputnik V and Chinese SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine (Vero Cell), Inactivated, made by Sinopharm.
According to the most recent information, the first jab was given to 40,518 people, while 26,100 people received the full course of COVID-19 vaccines.
The second stage of the immunization program will cover population groups who are most likely to develop severe forms of the disease. These are 60+ people, people with chronic diseases, as well as people living in 24/7 care homes.
At the third stage of the program, vaccines will be given to people whose jobs place them in contact with many people, like people working in retail sector, public catering, consumer and transport services.
Finally, at the fourth stage vaccines will be available to the general public. Some vaccines might be administered for a fee.
However, the division into stages is not strict, Dmitry Pinevich explained. Some vaccination stages will overlap, he added.
Production of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine in Belarus
A reminder, the Russian vaccine will be produced at the Belmedpreparaty pharmaceutical company.
The bottling of the first commercial batches of the Sputnik V vaccine from semi-finished products of Russia's pharmaceutical company Generium began at the Belmedpreparaty company on 25 March. The first batch will be as big as about 100,000 doses. The vaccine will be available for mass vaccination starting from late April, after quality control findings are received. After that, up to 500,000 doses will be made by Belmedpreparaty every month.
The company has already rolled out the first samples. By the way, Dmitry Pinevich brought them to the meeting with the president. The vaccine is now undergoing quality control.
The minister said that he had booked the first tested sample for himself.
The work is underway at another Belmedpreparaty facility to launch a full-cycle production of the same vaccine together with Russia's ROSSIUM Concern. The full production cycle encompasses several stages, from growing the virus to bottling the finished product. Belarus will start producing Sputnik V in September this year. The estimated output will approximate eight million doses per year.
“This will benefit both Russia and Belarus,” Dmitry Pinevich said. After Belarus meets its vaccination needs, the Belarus-made vaccines might be exported.
Development of Belarus' own vaccine
The Healthcare Ministry and the National Academy of Sciences are in charge of the vaccine development. The main role is assigned to the National Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology.
“The domestic vaccine is a matter of honor for Gusakov and Pinevich, the Healthcare Ministry and the National Academy of Sciences. It is necessary to develop the very best vaccine within the shortest possible time. It should be the finest, because we can draw on existing expertise and knowledge. It has already been done by Russians, Europeans, Chinese and Indians. Many are already producing these vaccines. We already have some expertise, we are not doing it from scratch,” the head of state said as he met with Dmitry Pinevich on 26 March.
According to Dmitry Pinevich, the production of a vaccine consists of several stages: first, one needs to get a vaccine in vitro in a test tube setting, then scale it up to a pilot production batch, and only after all the trials are over, the mass production of the vaccine can begin.
“What is important is that we are developing a technology that can be used to produce the same type of vaccine, but for another pathogen,” the minister added.
Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized that people should be able to have an easy access to coronavirus vaccines, including for a fee. “People want to get a shot. And they will get it. Someone wants it faster, someone wants a vaccine from other countries. Okay, we will buy it and offer to people for money. This option should also be available. It is up to every person to choose a vaccine they want,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.