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Influential medical magazine 'The Lancet' gives Kazakh- produced COVID vaccine QazCovid-in® top marks

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The influential UK medical magazine The Lancet has published an expert review which gives a positive report on the effectiveness of the Kazakh produced Covid vaccine QazCovid-in®.

In its EClinicalMedicine online review published in the middle of August, it concluded that: “QazCovid-in® is an inactivated aluminium adjuvanted whole-virion vaccine against COVID-19. Our phase 1 and 2 clinical trials have proved the QazCovid-in® vaccine to be safe and well-tolerated by adults aged from 18 to 70 years, who receive one or two doses.

“The reported local and systemic AEs, associated with intramuscular administration of the inactivated vaccine, are predominantly mild and classified as foreseeable.

"Between the vaccine and placebo groups, no statistically significant difference has been shown in the level of total serum IgE antibodies which are known as specific triggers of allergic reactions .

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"A good safety profile is a big advantage of the QazCovid-in® vaccine which does not induce acute allergic reactions.”

Between 19-23 September 2020, 104 potential participants aged 18–50 years were screened, of whom 44 were enrolled into the phase 1 clinical trial and randomly assigned to receive the QazCovid-in® vaccine or placebo.

The report states: “Participants were recruited through ethics-approved advertising on the study site's website. Eligible participants were male or female adults aged 18 years and older who were healthy at enrolment based on their medical history, vital signs, and physical examination. Participants were screened to meet the inclusion criteria."

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Subjects were enrolled in the trials if they had no history of COVID-19, their serology tests for IgM and IgG antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 were negative, and if they had no close contact with individuals suspected of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 14 days before the enrolment.

 Female participants of childbearing potential had to agree to use reliable forms of contraception throughout the whole study period. Volunteers were screened for the absence of chronic viral infections, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) viruses.

Routine biochemical blood test, hematology test panel, electrocardiogram (ECG), and pregnancy test for women were also performed. Main exclusion criteria included allergic history, drug intolerance including hypersensitivity to any vaccine component, an axillary temperature of more than 37·0 °C, abnormalities in laboratory tests, and positive urine pregnancy test for women.

Subjects with any mental disease or serious chronic illness were also excluded. A detailed list of the inclusion and exclusion criteria can be found in the Supplement. T

The trials were approved by the National Regulatory Authority and the ethics committee of the National Scientific Centre for Phthisiopulmonology of the Republic of Kazakhstan (No. KZ78VMX00000211) and conducted in compliance with the International Council for Harmonization Good Clinical Practice guidelines.

An investigator or a staff member explained the investigational nature and the purpose of the study to a subject in sufficient detail to allow the subject to make an informed decision about participating. Written informed consent was obtained from the study subjects before enrolment and before any study procedure, including screening. The trials were registered with ClinicalTrials.gov NCT04530357.

While the sample size was not based on any statistical hypothesis, it was adjusted to adequately assess the vaccine's safety in each study group. Qualitative characteristics of a study group were presented as percentages; quantitative parameters were presented as median with interquartile range (IQR) and min-max range.

The safety analysis set included all randomised participants who received at least one dose of the study vaccine or placebo. Descriptive summary data were provided as numbers and per group percentages and included the participants who reported at least one solicited local reaction or systemic adverse event, any unsolicited adverse events, serious adverse events, or adverse events of special interest after the first or second dose.

The attributable risk was calculated for particular groups and presented with 95% CI calculated by the Newcombe-Wilson method with continuity correction

The work was funded by the Science Committee of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The sponsor had no role in the design of the study, as well as in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data, or in the writing of the manuscript, and in the decision to publish the results.

To date, 6,183,445 people have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 4,819,587 citizens of the republic have been fully immunized.

The population of Kazakhstan is 19 million.

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Kazakh actor wins Best Actor award at Asian World Film Festival 2021 in LA

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Kazakh actor Tolepbergen Baissakalov (pictured, left) won the Best Actor award for his role in the Fire movie directed by Aizhan Kassymbek at the Asian World Film Festival 2021 (AWFF), reported film’s producer Diana Ashimova on her Instagram, writes Saniya Bulatkulova in Culture.

The movie recently premiered at the 26th International Film Festival in Busan.

This year, 30 films from more than 20 countries were presented at the festival.

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The AWFF, which is being held for the seventh time, brings the best of the broad selection of Asian World cinema to Los Angeles to draw recognition to the region’s filmmakers and strengthen ties between Asian and Hollywood film industries.

The social drama with elements of comedy tells the story about an ordinary middle-aged man, who tries to build his life in a megapolis and does his best to feed his family. It seems to him problems will never end as he lives in endless debts. He finds out his teenage daughter is pregnant and tries to find the father only to get involved in an absurd adventure, which helps him to understand the most important things in life.

The movie recently premiered at the 26th International Film Festival in Busan.

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Last week, Baissakalov was awarded Best Actor at the sixth Russian-British Sochi International Film Festival and Film Awards IRIDA.

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Kazakhstan’s 30th anniversary of independence: Achievements and Results

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The recent analytical piece published on Zakon.kz, an online news outlet, which is translated from Russian, reveals the path of Kazakhstan to economic progress and sustainable development since 1991. It shows how the country achieved significant results in implementing large-scale market reforms in the post-Soviet space, Staff Report, Kazakhstan’s Independence: 30 Years, Nation.

Kazakhstan is celebrating its 30th anniversary of independence this year. During this time, the country changed its image on the international arena and has become an economic and political leader in the region. 

Kazakh Eli Monument. The monument symbolizes the modern history of Kazakhstan and its people. The monument’s height of 91 meters marks 1991 when Kazakhstan became independent. Photo credit: Elbasy.kz.

“This year marks the 30th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s Independence. This is an important date in strengthening the revived Kazakh statehood and of freedom, which our ancestors dreamed. For history, 30 years is a moment that flies by in the blink of an eye. However, for many people this is a whole era of difficulties and joys, crises and ups,” said Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in his article titled “Independence Above All.”

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The first years of independence were the most difficult for the country. Kazakhstan inherited a weak economy. In 1991, the country’s Gross Domestic Product fell by 11 percent. The change was possible only by the end of 1996, when it increased by 0.5 percent. The next year, the growth was 2 percent. The inflation rate in 1991 was 147.12 percent with a monthly rise in prices of 57-58 percent. In 1992, this figure was already equal to 2962.81 percent. The situation leveled out at the end of 1993, setting the average rate at around 2169.8 percent. In 1994, it was cut by half to 1160.26 percent, with the decline in following years reaching 1.88 percent in 1997.

The idea of creating a new capital of Kazakhstan belongs to Nursultan Nazarbayev. The decision to transfer the capital from Almaty to Akmola was made on July 6, 1994. Astana was renamed to the city of Nur-Sultan оn March 23, 2019. Photo credit: Elbasy.kz.

In the same period, the unemployment rate reached 4.6 percent. In 1995, it dropped to 3.2 percent. Between 1992 and 1994, there was a sharp increase in the unemployment rate with a massive outflow of the population – 1.1 million people left the country. The country’s budget deficit by 1994 was 20.6 billion tenge (US$ 47.8 million).

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The Kazakh government developed and launched the Strategy for the Political and Economic Development of the country up to 2005. According to the strategy, the government started a program of privatization, economic reforms, and launched the transition from the Soviet planned economy to a market economy. From 1991 to 2000, a whole class of small and medium-sized businesses appeared in Kazakhstan. They bought 34500 objects of state property for 215.4 billion tenge (US$ 499.7 million). 

According to the Ministry of Economy, Kazakhstan has shown significant achievements in implementing large-scale market reforms in the post-Soviet space. The country has attracted more than $380 billion of foreign direct investments, which accounts for 70 percent of the total inflow of investments to the Central Asian region.

In 1997, the state faced another economic crisis caused by a sharp fall in the Asian market. This crisis hit all economic players, who, in pursuit of profit from investments in the rapidly growing economies of East and Southeast Asia, brought themselves to bankruptcy. The financial losses amounted to billions of dollars, which affected the economies of the countries of the former Soviet countries, including Kazakhstan.

Capital outflows were followed by a collapse in energy and commodity prices on world markets. This alignment led to economic destabilization in Russia, which influenced the reduction in the cost of Russian goods and, as a result, had an impact on Kazakhstani producers. To stabilize the domestic market, the Kazakh authorities reduced imports from neighboring countries, and devalued the Kazakh currency. It saved the country’s economy from large-scale turbulence.

According to the Asian Development Bank, Kazakhstan’s pragmatic economic policies helped the country to become an upper middle-income state and an economic and political leader in Central Asia.

Kazakhstan has managed to reduce poverty, increase the population’s access to primary education, and improve gender equality and social security for children and mothers. According to statistics, the share of the poor, based on the national poverty line, in comparison with 2001 in the country has decreased from 46.7 percent to 2.6 percent. According to the International Labor Organization, Kazakhstan has a consistently low unemployment rate. Since 2011, this indicator has never exceeded 5 percent.

For several years now, the Kazakh authorities have been following a program of diversifying the country’s economy. The government is implementing programs to modernize agriculture, improve the usage of public resources, increase productivity in the non-oil sector, and ensure the transition of the manufacturing industry to more promising industries with high export potential.

To maintain high rates of economic growth, Kazakhstan seeks to implement structural changes in the economy, which was reflected in the Address of the First President the Kazakhstan’s way 2050: Common Goal, Common Interests, Common Future in 2014.

Recently the country took the path towards an innovation-oriented economy aiming at the formation of a favorable business environment and investment climate and increasing the intensity and productivity of the national economy.

According to Kazakh expert Andrei Chebotarev, despite the pandemic and a general decline in GDP, by the end of 2020, the manufacturing industry grew by 3.9 percent. Gross value added is also growing, amounting to 9.3 trillion tenge (US$ 21.5 million) over the past year. Exports of high value-added products have also increased by 5%. 

The diversification of the economy made it possible for more and more local products to enter the markets nationwide. Their quality is in no way inferior to the quality of foreign manufacturers.

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Kazakhstan – Presidential decree improves human rights

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In February the European Parliament passed a resolution criticising Kazakhstan for its human rights record, highlighting gender issues, the situation of civil society groups and activists, and demanding the release of detained activists. Kazakh officials responded that the criticism was unfair and that the EU should not ignore or discourage efforts to improve the country’s record on human rights.

The plan’s priority areas include attempts to eliminate discrimination against women, boost freedoms of association, expression and freedom to life and public order. The plan also aims to increase in the efficiency of interaction with non-governmental organisations and to improve human rights in the criminal justice system to stamp out torture and ill-treatment of prisoners.

On June 10th 2021, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a decree to improve the country’s human rights record.

It included attempts to eliminate discrimination against women, boost freedoms of association, expression and freedom to life and public order. The plan also aims to increase in the efficiency of interaction with non-governmental organisations and to improve human rights in the criminal justice system to stamp out torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. He emphasised the rights of citizens with disabilities and victims of human trafficking as priority areas, in addition to ensuring the right to freedom of association, expression, and ‘public order’. The decree comes on the heels of two years of heightened dissent and protests in Kazakhstan.

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Tokayev has overseen several significant reforms, including the abolishment of the death penalty in 2019 and introducing direct election of mayors of rural districts and small towns. While the issue areas Tokayev mentioned specifically in his June 10th decree may not invite a sweeping overhaul of Kazakhstan’s political system, targeted policy changes could nonetheless have a consequential impact on many people’s lives.

The decree involved changes to the Criminal Code, as with reforms to regulations on peaceful assembly passed in June 2020. The new law relaxed constraints while preserving the state’s ability to restrict Kazakhstanis’ freedom of assembly.

Under the new law, organisers still need to submit advance notification to local authorities, who have the final say in whether a gathering is permitted. The location for gatherings is still at the discretion of local authorities as well

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While there are meaningful reforms, such as improving education and accessibility for people with disabilities or opening up space for women in the workforce, it seems likely that efforts to ensure Kazakhstanis’ civil liberties will involve increasing efficiency of interaction with non-governmental organisations.

Boosting Kazakhstan’s human rights record could bring economic benefits, with potential foreign investors attracted by a more stable, lower-risk economic environment.

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