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World Afghanistan begins COVID-19 vaccination drive amid rising violence

12:38  23 february  2021
12:38  23 february  2021 Source:   reuters.com

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan began its first COVID-19 vaccinations on Tuesday, administering doses initially to security force members, health workers and journalists, in a campaign that may face challenges from a sharp rise in violence.

Nasrin Oryakhil, Ashraf Ghani, Amrullah Saleh posing for the camera: Members of Afghan security forces receive the first dose of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine from India, in Kabul © Reuters/Afghan Presidential Palace Members of Afghan security forces receive the first dose of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine from India, in Kabul Ashraf Ghani wearing a suit and tie: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a ceremony in Kabul © Reuters/Afghan Presidential Palace Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a ceremony in Kabul

The war-damaged country received 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is producing the vaccine for mid- and low-income countries, earlier this month.

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Ashraf Ghani, Amrullah Saleh, Sarwar Danish standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: Members of Afghan security forces receive the first dose of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine from India, in Kabul © Reuters/Afghan Presidential Palace Members of Afghan security forces receive the first dose of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine from India, in Kabul

In a ceremony at the presidential palace, acting health minister Waheed Majroh said the vaccines would be provided to 250,000 people, mostly from the security, health, education and media sectors.

"Today is a fortunate day for Afghanistan as we launch the first vaccination drive, but it would be a challenge to roll the plan to the whole country," Majroh said.

Taliban insurgents fighting the foreign-backed Afghan government have announced their backing for the vaccination campaign.


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However, the inoculations will take place amid relentless violence despite the government and the Taliban insurgents opening peace talks in September. The discussions have produced no progress to date.

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A report by the United nations released on Tuesday said civilian casualties escalated sharply after peace talks begin last year and it called for a ceasefire.

Afghan health officials have said that the international COVAX programme, which is aimed at improving access to the COVID-19 vaccine for developing countries, would provide vaccines to cover 20% of the country's 38 million population.

President Ashraf Ghani, one of several Afghan leaders who witnessed the first injections, said the pandemic is still a serious problem for the country and called on health workers to vaccinate people in a fair and transparent manner.

He added efforts are under way to cover 40% of the population in a second round.

Afghanistan has registered 55,646 infections and 2,435 deaths. But experts say cases are significantly under-reported due to low testing and limited access to medical facilities in the war-torn country.

(Reporting by Orooj Hakimi, Writing by Hamid Shalizi, Editing by William Maclean)

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A single shot of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine is more than 80% effective at preventing hospitalisation among the over 80s, health secretary has said.A single shot of either the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is more than 80% effective at preventing hospitalisation among the over 80s, the health secretary has said.

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