Syria receives first COVID-19 vaccines, for most vulnerable

The bulk of the AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India reached Damascus and more than 53,000 doses were delivered to the northwest.

More than 250,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Syria on Thursday from the UN-backed COVAX initiative, to inoculate the country’s frontline health workers.

The bulk of the AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India reached Damascus and more than 53,000 doses were delivered to the northwest, where conflict and displacement have continued.

“This is an important milestone in our collective fight against the pandemic” as it is bringing the nation closer to vaccine equity and giving hope to the people, “whose lives have been shattered by a decade of conflict”, said Akjemal Magtymova, the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Syria.

COVAX umbrella protection

Under the COVAX Facility, Syria is one of the 92 countries eligible for advance market distribution of vaccines.

WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in coordination with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, are providing technical assistance to the Syrian health authorities to launch a national vaccination campaign later this month.

Ahead of further deliveries, UN humanitarians stressed that Syria’s health workers need much more help “wherever they are in the country”.

So too do those most at-risk, namely the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, said UNICEF, WHO and Gavi – the COVAX partners.

“With the vaccines delivered through this first batch and with future deliveries planned for this year, we hope that by end of 2021, health workers, the elderly and people with chronic diseases – that is 20 per cent of the population – will be protected from COVID-19 and its complications”, Dr. Magtymova said.

‘Great day of hope’

The UNICEF Representative in Syria, Bo Viktor Nylund, described the arrival of the shots as “a great day of hope”.

Against the backdrop that the imminent vaccine roll-out will protect the health of the workers who continue saving lives amidst the pandemic, he noted that these professionals would be better enabled to attend to the health needs of the children and families who have endured the impact of this pandemic “in many forms”.

Mr. Nylund expressed gratitude to India “for facilitating the delivery of this urgently needed consignment of the COVID-19 vaccines” and urged wealthier nations to continue working with the COVAX partners “to get vaccines as soon as possible to vulnerable communities in conflict-ravaged countries like Syria”.

On the ground

To date, Syria’s official COVID-19 numbers indicate around 50,000 cases of new coronavirus.

However, UNICEF and WHO noted that the actual number is likely to be much higher, owing to scarce testing supplies in the country, after 10 years of war.

WHO, UNICEF and health partners on the ground are committed to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines to the target groups in Syria.

“When we say, ‘we are not safe until everyone is safe’, we mean every word”, said Dr. Ahmad Al-Mandhari, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Ted Chaiban, and Gavi Director of Country Support Pascal Bijleveld.

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