Libya rolls out long-delayed COVID-19 vaccination drive

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Libya’s new unity government launched a long-delayed COVID-19 vaccination program on Saturday after receiving some 160,000 vaccine doses over the past week, with the prime minister receiving his jab on live television.

While Libya is richer than its neighbors due to oil exports, the country’s healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence, and it has struggled to cope during the pandemic.

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Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a “blessed day” in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot, without saying which vaccine he had been given. At least 100,000 of the doses that arrived this week were Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

Dbeibeh’s interim Government of National Unity was sworn in last month after emerging through a UN-facilitated process with a mandate to unify the country, improve state services and oversee the run-up to a national election in December.

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Dbeibeh’s government has framed the delivery of vaccines and the national roll-out as evidence that it is improving the lives of ordinary Libyans after replacing two warring administrations that ruled in the east and west of the country.

“Through the political consultations and the efforts of the prime minister, the vaccine is available,” said Health Minister Ali al-Zanati, who has said previously the government had so far ordered enough doses to inoculate 1.4 million of the country’s more than six million people.

Libya’s National Centre for Disease Control has said more than 400,000 people have registered for vaccination in more than 400 centers around the country.

Libya has recorded more than 166,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, though U.N. envoys have said the true figures are likely far higher.

“I feel sorry that the vaccine arrived late in Libya after thousands were infected. But better late than never,” said Ali al-Hadi, a shop owner, adding that his wife had been sick with COVID-19 and recovered.

Many Libyans fear the vaccination campaign could be marred by political infighting or favoritism after years of unrest.

“We hope the Health Ministry will steer away from political conflicts so that services can reach patients,” said housewife Khawla Muhammad, 33.

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Algeria will start producing Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in September