Tuesday Feb 23 2021

President Ashraf Ghani launches Afghanistan's coronavirus vaccine campaign

This handout photograph taken on February 23, 2021 and released by the Press Office of President of Afghanistan shows Afghan female journalist Anisa Shahid (R) receiving a dose of COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, as Afghanistan launched a Covid-19 vaccination campaign. Photo: AFP/Press Office of President of Afghanistan

  • Doctors, security personnel, journalists among first volunteers to receive doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine
  • Ashraf Ghani calls campaign a big opportunity for people of Afghanistan
  • Country's acting health minister says they don't expect any miracles

KABUL: Amid ongoing attacks by militants, Afghanistan on Tuesday launched its coronavirus vaccination drive with the hopes of inoculating thousands of Afghans against the disease that has wrecked havoc in the world.

Doctors, security personnel, and journalists were among the first volunteers to receive doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, donated earlier this month by India.

"Today, I congratulate the people of Afghanistan for the launch of the first stage of COVID-19 vaccine [drive] with 500,000 doses of vaccines. This is a big opportunity for the people of Afghanistan," said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as the first jabs were administered.

Read more: Pakistan, Afghanistan’s coronavirus death rate second-highest compared to neighbours

"We don't expect any miracles, but let's help this campaign to be implemented justly," the country's acting health minister Waheed Majroh added.

Afghanistan is believed to have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in the last year, but limited testing and a ramshackle healthcare sector have hampered its ability to track the virus.

Officially the country has recorded just 55,600 confirmed cases and about 2,430 deaths.

But a survey published by the country's health ministry last August estimated that up to 10 million people — nearly a third of the population — might have been infected with the coronavirus.

Read more: Pakistan committed to supporting Afghanistan during coronavirus pandemic, says PM Imran

Kabul, along with urban areas across the country, have been rocked in the recent weeks by frequent explosions on an almost daily basis amid fraught peace talks between the government and the Taliban.

Decades of conflict have slowed past vaccine drives in Afghanistan, including an anti-polio campaign, with swathes of the country under the control of insurgents making access difficult for inoculation teams.

The war-torn country kicked off its vaccine drive as controversies dogged inoculation plans across the globe, with accusations of dose hoarding, supply shortages and logistical headaches slowing the delivery of jabs.