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Covid-19 vaccine: Syria's Idlib receives its first batch

The delivery is part of the Covax programme, which has already sent doses to more than 100 countries and territories worldwide
A truck carrying the first batch of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines arrives at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria's Idlib province on 21 April 2021 (AFP)

Opposition-held northwestern Syria has received its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines, as millions in the war-torn region endure dire humanitarian conditions.

An AFP correspondent said that 53,800 AstraZeneca doses had been dispatched to the Idlib region as part of the Covax programme, which aims to ensure equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccinations.

Around noon, a truck carrying the vaccines crossed the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria's Idlib province. The vaccines were then unloaded and placed in a cold storage facility.

"Today, we received the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines," said Abdul Hamid al-Hussein of the Physicians Across Continents group, which accompanied the shipment into Syria. 

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The delivery is the first to Syria as part of the Covax initiative, which has already sent vaccine doses to more than 100 countries and territories worldwide.

The doses are intended for the extended northwestern Syrian region, which includes militant-dominated parts of Idlib. 

Mahmoud Daher, a senior official with the World Health Organisation (WHO), said it was ready to administer jabs to the most vulnerable people. 

"We are prepared to start vaccination to priority groups through our implementing partners," he told AFP.

Covax is jointly led by the public-private alliance Gavi, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Spreading risk

The first categories of people to be vaccinated in the coming days in Idlib will be medical personnel involved in the battle against the pandemic and first-aid responders.

The next group would be those aged over 60, followed by younger people with chronic diseases, said Daher, who is based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Much of the Idlib enclave is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a militant organisation that includes ex-members of Syria's former al-Qaeda franchise.

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Other regions of Syria will also receive vaccine doses through Covax.

Imad Zahran, a media officer for the Idlib region's health department, told AFP that the vaccination campaign was expected to begin early next month and would last about three weeks.

According to the WHO, a separate 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for the first phase of vaccinations in regime-controlled areas and semi-autonomous Kurdish regions. 

The aim is to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by the end of the year.

The official Covid-19 death toll in Syria is low compared to some other countries in the region, but credible data collection across the conflict-ravaged country is almost impossible.

Syria's war has killed more than 388,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

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