Afghanistan has received 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine from India, the first vaccines it has received to date.
The country is still waiting for emergency approval from the World Health Organization (WHO) before it can use the vaccine, according to Afghanistan’s Acting Minister of Health Wahid Majrooh who spoke to reporters at Kabul airport as he received the consignment on Sunday.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine is being produced by the Serum Institute of India, and New Delhi has embarked on a programme of distributing the vaccine to its neighbours.
Once approved, the doses will initially be administered to the country’s health workers and elderly citizens with a history of chronic ailments as per the guidelines issued by the WHO, Majrooh said.
“The vaccines we have received are under the WHO certification process. According to our conversation with WHO, they told us that the approval process of this vaccine certification takes a week to 10 days.”
Ghulam Dastagir Nazari, head of the immunisation program at the health ministry, said the doses would be stored in Kabul until the emergency authorisation was received.
The coronavirus was first recorded in Afghanistan in February 2020. At the time, thousands of Afghan migrant workers were returning from neighbouring Iran, which was the worst-affected nation in the region.
In the following months, Afghanistan, already racked by decades of war, was ravaged by the diseases, particularly in capital Kabul.
In August last year, a health ministry survey revealed that 10 million people – nearly a third of the country’s population – had been infected with the coronavirus.
The country of 32 million people has limited testing capacity, but recent months have seen a decline in new infections, with officials registering more than 55,300 confirmed cases so far and nearly 2,400 deaths.