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On March 12, 2021, the CAREC Institute (Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation), the Public Opinion Research Institute (Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan) held a joint online (ZOOM) / offline seminar “Analysis of Public Attitudes Towards COVID-19 Vaccinations in Selected CAREC Countries (Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan)”.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has triggered a global health emergency, which has quickly morphed into an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions, not seen since WWII. Loss of lives and the mounting economic woes have affected the livelihood of millions of people throughout the world. The impact on the CAREC countries has been severe, with the extent yet to be fully gauged.

Securing broad and effective immunization programs for the population is vital, not only for preserving health and lives, but also for ensuring robust economic recovery in the CAREC region. A number of reliable vaccines have become available meanwhile. Now, the CAREC countries face the challenge to reach the population in a fast and comprehensive way. While development of vaccines at unprecedented speed have raised hopes of turning the tide against the pandemic, the interplay of information and disinformation in the age of social media has led to widespread apprehensions towards vaccines. This poses serious challenge for the vaccination programs. Well-designed methods and channels of distribution of vaccines must include well-selected information for the public as key for success. This requires empirical research to inform public policy discourses on the subject. In this context, The CAREC Institute together with the Public Opinion Research Institute (Kazakhstan) conducted population polls about attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccinations in seven CAREC countries: Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The total sample of the research is 7000 respondents. Date of the survey: December 2020 - January 2021.

The results showed that there is considerable lack of information and strong resistance against vaccinations among a sizeable percentage of the polled population in all seven CAREC countries. The report presented at the workshop analyses what arguments are put forward by the interviewees in favor and against vaccination. An interesting outcome is, for example, that in all CAREC countries the pro-vaccination argument “I want to protect my family” counts much higher than the argument “I want to protect myself”. The report discusses also how attitudes are influenced by previous health and economic exposure to the pandemic and by the socio-demographic background.

The polls are meant to provide governments with information for properly designing their vaccination programs while taking into account the general public’s concerns. Success of vaccination drives depends, in large part, on successful awareness and information campaigns based on scientific facts and arguments. Governments in the region have already gained valuable experience in running large public service campaigns using all forms of media, which can now be leveraged to dispel disinformation regarding vaccines.

The workshop on 12 March shall brought together stakeholders from governments, experts, and also the broader public to discuss the results of the polls in above mentioned 7 countries, differences and similarities among CAREC countries, and what conclusions might be drawn for vaccination and information campaigns in the respective countries. Areas of potential cooperation among the CAREC countries on these issues were also explored.

The seminar was attended by representatives of 28 countries.

About CAREC (www.carecinstitute.org). The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Institute is an intergovernmental organization, jointly governed by 11 member countries, with an international organization status in the PRC, dedicated to promoting economic cooperation among CAREC members through research, capacity building, policy advocacy, and partnerships. The Institute acts as a knowledge connector among the five CAREC clusters - economic and financial stability; trade, tourism, and economic corridors; infrastructure and economic connectivity; agriculture and water; and human development - to ensure coherence in design and implementation of policies, programs, and projects to promote regional economic cooperation and integration, where integration is defined as a strategy that promotes the benefits of collective and collaborative activities among member countries through economies of scale, more vigorous intra-regional trade, expansion of markets, shared information platforms for exchange, and harmonized frameworks for social and economic interaction. 

About PORI (www.opinions.kz). The Public Opinion Research Institute (Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan) was established in 2013 by a group of sociologists with professional experience of more than 20 years. The Institute specializes in the study of public opinion, conducts marketing and sociological studies, both in Kazakhstan and in other countries of the world. Research Institute staff members are members of international professional networks - European Society of Marketing Research Professionals ESOMAR (www.esomar.org), World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR), Association of Turkic Sociologists, WVS (World Values Survey), European Society for Central Asian Studies ESCAS and etc. The Institute takes part in following projects: World Values Survey (7th wave), Values in a Crisis survey, Youth in Central Asia of the Fredrich Ebert Foundation (1st wave), Turkbarometer of the International Turkic Academy, PIAAC (Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competences, OECD). For more than 15 years, the specialists of the Institute have been conducting surveys of the Kazakh diaspora in Central Asia, the CIS, China, Mongolia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the USA, Western Europe, etc.