Myanmar launched a COVID-19 vaccination program on Wednesday, with healthcare staff and volunteer medical workers the first to receive shots of the AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine donated by neighboring India.
The Southeast Asian country managed to contain the number of COVID-19 cases early in the pandemic, but is now fighting a second wave, recording more than 138,000 cases and 3,082 deaths.
Last week, Myanmar received 1.5 million doses of the vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, amid a diplomatic drive by New Dehli to supply neighboring countries just as regional rival China has also pledged vaccine consignments.
“This should create a situation to reduce the rate of infection, so it is such a relief for healthcare workers,” Tun Myint, a health ministry official overseeing vaccinations at the Yangon General Hospital, told reporters.
The number of daily new COVID-19 cases has dropped recently, though medical experts say it is unlikely to provide a full picture given relatively low testing rates.
“We are so tired from the long fight” against the pandemic, said volunteer medical worker Khant Ko Ko, who received a vaccine shot at the Ayeyarwady Centre, a facility in Yangon where coronavirus patients are treated.
Myanmar’s fragile healthcare system has relied heavily on thousands of volunteers to assist during the pandemic.
Phone Min Khant, another volunteer, said he felt happy to get the vaccine and pleased that Myanmar was among the first countries in Southeast Asia to launch an immunization drive.
The next group of people due to be inoculated will be members of parliament on Friday and Saturday, the health ministry has said.
Myanmar has an ambitious target to vaccinate the whole population, of about 54 million people, this year.
The health ministry has said up to 30 million additional doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been ordered with a further two million due to arrive by the first week of February.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a visit this month promised Myanmar 300,000 doses of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine.
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