First doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Afghanistan from India

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Afghanistan received 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine from India on Sunday, the first to arrive in the country, which is still waiting for emergency approval from the World Health Organization before it can use them.

Ghulam Dastagir Nazari, head of the immunization program at the health ministry said the doses would be stored in Kabul until the emergency authorization was received, which it hoped would happen in a week.

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The vaccines were produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is producing the AstraZenecca/Oxford University vaccine for mid- and low-income countries.

“The (WHO) certification process is underway and hopefully it will be done in a week and we will start the vaccination process in all 34 provinces,” said Nazari.

Health workers, security force members, teachers and government employees would receive the vaccine first, he said.

The Afghan government has already trained 1,000 people to deliver the vaccine out of the 3,000 that will be needed to carry out its vaccination drive, he said.

Nazari said China also planned to send 200,000 doses of the vaccine.

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Afghan health officials have also said that the international COVAX program aimed at improving access to the COVID-19 vaccine for developing countries would provide vaccines to cover 20 percent of the country’s 38 million population.

Afghanistan has had 55,335 COVID-19 cases and 2,410 deaths from the disease, according to the health ministry.

The WHO listed Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on December 31 as it sought to accelerate vaccination in the developing world, which is badly lagging western countries.

A regional WHO official told Reuters this week that they were looking at the production sites for the AstraZeneca vaccine and hoped to make the decision on emergency use within weeks.

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