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Somalia receives its first batch of COVID vaccine a year after first case detected

Monday March 15, 2021

Mogadishu (HOL) - The first doses of the World Health Organization's global vaccine-sharing program COVAX has landed in Somalia on Monday, marking a crucial step in the fight against the virus as deaths continue to rise.

A flight carrying 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived in Mogadishu, the nation's health ministry confirmed in a statement.

Health Minister Fazwia Abikar and UN envoy in Somalia James Swan travelled to the airport to receive the vaccine and hailed the its arrival while warning against letting our down guard.

"The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines is happening at a critical time as Somalia is now experiencing a new wave of the epidemic. It can only be contained if all countries stand together, Somalia included," Fawziya Abikar, Somalia's Health Minister, said in a statement.

Abikar said that the first shipment of doses would be allocated to frontline workers, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions.

"I call on all healthcare workers and people at high-risk who have been prioritized to receive vaccines from this batch so we can protect our health workforce, other frontline workers and high-risk people."

Abikar added that Somalia's health ministry has conducted extensive mass vaccination drives for deadly vaccine-preventable diseases in the past, such as measles and polio, and will rely on experience it gained through these campaigns. Abikar says that the government has already trained 2,000 health workers who will begin the exercise on Tuesday.

However, Abikar warned that although vaccines have helped other countries reduce the spread of the virus, she urged Somalis to continue observing public health measures such as wearing masks, washing hands, and keeping a safe distance.

Dr. Fawziya Abikar, Somalia's Health Minister and James Swan, UN Special Representative for Somalia, received the shipment from Mogadishu's international airport.

The vaccine, which WHO validated for emergency use and is licensed to the Serum Institute of India, only requires standard refrigeration, making it easier to transport and store.

Somalia recorded its first known case of COVID-19 on March 16, 2020. The Health Ministry said that a citizen returning from China tested positive for the virus.

The delivery comes as Somalia is grappling with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, leading experts to speculate whether a more infectious variant of the coronavirus is spreading.

Somalia's virus infections have skyrocketed in the past month, jumping from 5,273 cases to 9,190. According to Somalia's health ministry, the spike has led to 213 deaths in the same period. As it stands, the virus has claimed 367 lives. In the past 24 hours alone, 18 people were reported dead as a result of the virus.

The World Health Organization created the COVAX initiative to help low- and middle-income countries access the vaccine through donations, licensing and build purchases. The goal is to deliver 2 billion vaccine doses in 2021, including 1.8 billion to the poorest countries at no cost to their governments.

The UN's Special Representative for Somalia, James Swan, said that the UN stands by ready to support the COVAX roll-out.

"The United Nations in Somalia stands ready to support the Somali authorities for the COVAX vaccine roll-out. We are committed to supporting the government of Somalia to reach out to the most vulnerable groups and frontline workers to ensure that spread of the virus is contained and that Somali people recover quickly from this pandemic and the country continues making progress towards peace and stability."

The Health Ministry announced that it would be creating a social mobilizer team to create awareness on the importance of being vaccinated. The ministry will send these teams into different communities to educate locals on the vaccine and other COVID-19 prevention measures.


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