The Syrian government received more than 200,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via the Covax programme Thursday, state media said, in the first such shipment to government-held territory.
The delivery comes as Syria’s war-ravaged medical sector grapples with a Covid-19 outbreak that has accelerated rapidly in recent months.
The health ministry “received the first batch of vaccines provided by the Covax platform, which consist of 203,000 doses,” the official SANA news agency said.
On Wednesday, the war-torn northwest of the country had received 53,800 AstraZeneca doses from Covax, the first such delivery to the country’s last major opposition bastion.
Covax is jointly led by the public-private alliance Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
It has already sent vaccine doses to more than 100 countries and territories worldwide.
In a joint statement, Gavi, WHO and the UN’s agency for children UNICEF said Thursday’s vaccine delivery marked “a great day of hope.”
“The imminent roll-out of the vaccines will bring protection to health workers, who continue their lifesaving work amid the pandemic,” the statement said.
In recent weeks, the Syrian government has repeatedly sounded the alarm over soaring coronavirus rates.
In mid-March, intensive care units dedicated to Covid-19 patients in Damascus hospitals reached full capacity, according to the health ministry.
Thursday’s delivery “gives hope for the people in Syria, whose lives have been shattered by a decade of conflict and the devastating impact of the pandemic,” said WHO’s Syria representative, Akjemal Magtymova.
According to the WHO, 912,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been earmarked for Syria in a first phase of vaccination in regime-controlled and in semi-autonomous Kurdish areas.
The aim is to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by year’s end.
“Every health worker who will get vaccinated will be better protected to attend to children’s and families’ health needs,” said Bo Viktor Nylund, UNICEF’s Syria representative.
Officially, government-controlled territories have recorded more than 21,500 Covid-19 cases, including 1,483 deaths.
But the real number of cases could be much higher, according to the UN, mostly due to limited testing.