08 January 2021
Full Report: Ukraine
- COVID-19 vaccinations will begin in first quarter of 2021, but struggle to secure sufficient doses will ensure virus continues to spread over coming year
- Zelenskiy will resist calls to purchase Russian-made vaccine and seek further doses from China, Western allies and via COVAX
- Slow vaccine roll-out and sporadic government interventions to lower infection rate will increase risk of protests throughout 2021
The government announced a four-stage vaccination plan on 22 December, in which it envisages vaccinating at least 50% of the population during 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, President Zelenskiy announced on 30 December that Ukraine had signed a contract for 1.9 million doses of China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine. Zelenskiy also said that authorities were trying to increase the number of vaccine doses guaranteed to Ukraine under the WHO’s COVAX facility, from 8 million to 16 million. The following day, Ukrainian pharmaceutical company Biolik confirmed that it had applied to the health ministry to register Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, with the backing of pro-Russia Opposition Platform MP Viktor Medvedchuk.
The government initially imposed a two-month lockdown in March last year to tackle the spread of COVID-19, before opting for a localised approach. However, increased daily case numbers prompted additional national measures, including a weekend quarantine for three weeks in November. Despite daily infection rates having fallen since a peak on 27 November, they remain high at around 5,000 per day, and the government plans to impose a lockdown from 8-24 January, anticipating a spike in infection rates after Christmas (7 January). Authorities are also keen to keep rates down ahead of a flu epidemic expected to start in late January or early February, and such concerns will additionally have driven the government to accelerate the procurement of vaccines.
Source: Office of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine
Efforts to secure more vaccine doses from COVAX partly reflect the fact that with current purchased doses, the government will be able to vaccinate less than 5 million people, which will not be sufficient to inoculate even the country’s elderly population – more than 7 million people in Ukraine are over the age of 65. Meanwhile, securing further COVAX doses will be preferable to other options, notably the Russian vaccine, given longstanding tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over the latter’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas. Zelenskiy will also be wary of appearing weak by purchasing the Russian vaccine – in a 16 December interview he described the vaccine as a tool for Moscow’s “information war” against Ukraine – and will not want to further damage his popularity, particularly given public anger over COVID-19 restrictions. Indeed, dozens of police officers were injured during clashes that broke out at an anti-lockdown protest on 15 December.
Vaccinations will begin in the first quarter of 2021, but will not alleviate pressure on the government regarding its COVID-19 strategy. Indeed, the two-week January lockdown is unlikely to lead to a sustained decrease in the daily infection rate. The government will, however, be reluctant to introduce more stringent measures due to fears over the economic costs, particularly amid an ongoing constitutional crisis that threatens to halt loans from the IMF and EU (see our 3 December report). Meanwhile, Zelenskiy will resist calls to purchase the Russian vaccine, and will step up efforts to procure vaccines from alternative sources in the coming months, including China and Kyiv’s Western allies, with US assistance potentially more forthcoming under incoming president-elect Biden. However, pro-Russian MPs will continue to put pressure on Kyiv to opt for Moscow’s vaccine amid the slow rollout, particularly as Sputnik V could be produced at large numbers in Ukraine. The slow inoculation process means the virus will continue to spread over the coming year, ensuring further sporadic interventions to lower infection rates, which will also increase the risk of protests, particularly in major cities.