War-torn Yemen Starts COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign

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A Yemeni medical worker receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in the al-Maala district of Aden, today.
A Yemeni medical worker receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in the al-Maala district of Aden, today.Credit: SALEH OBAIDI - AFP

Yemen's COVID-19 vaccination campaign began in government-held areas on Tuesday three weeks after the first shipment from the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme arrived in the war-torn country.

Yemen on March 31 received 360,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, part of a consignment from COVAX expected to total 1.9 million doses this year.

The campaign kicked off in the southern port city of Aden, the government's interim capital in a six-year-old war.

The health minister and the Yemen representative for UN Children's Fund UNICEF, Philippe Duamelle, received shots in a show of confidence in the vaccine.

Duamelle said frontline workers, the elderly and those with certain health problems would be prioritized.

There has been a dramatic spike in confirmed and suspected new coronvairus infections in Yemen since mid-February, further straining a health system battered by war, economic collapse and, recently, a shortfall in humanitarian aid funding.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement controls most of northern Yemen after ousting the Saudi-backed government from the capital Sanaa.

The government's health ministry has previously said the COVAX vaccines will be free, and distributed across the country, where the Houthis control most big urban centres. COVAX is co-led by the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization to provide COVID vaccines to low-income countries.

Tuesday's rollout covered only government-held parts of the country, said Ishraq al-Seba'ei who is with the government's emergency coronavirus committee. But she said 10,000 doses are being sent to Sanaa via the World Health Organisation.

A UNICEF official said no vaccinations had yet taken place in Houthi areas.

Yemen's emergency coronavirus committee registered 42 confirmed cases and six deaths on Tuesday. It has recorded 5,858 coronavirus infections and 1,132 deaths so far though the true figure is widely thought to be much higher as the war has restricted COVID-19 testing and reporting.

Houthi authorities have provided no figures since a couple of cases last May.

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