Yemenis urged to take Covid-19 vaccine as first AstraZeneca shipment arrives

Delivery is part of 1.9 million doses the country will receive throughout 2021

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Yemen received its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines on Wednesday, the UN children's agency said, as the country tries to deal with a second wave of the virus.

A delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines arrived in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen's de facto capital. The internationally recognised government has been based since it was driven out of Sanaa in the north by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in 2014.

"The 360,000 doses arrived, together with 13,000 safety boxes and 1,300,000 syringes that are critical for the safe and effective roll out of the vaccination campaign," Unicef said.

This consignment is the first  part of 1.9 million doses that Yemen is scheduled to receive this year. The country has a population of 29 million.

Vaccines will be free of charge and distributed across the country, a spokesman for the government's health ministry said last week, confirming more doses would arrive in May.

The shipment comes as the country's coronavirus committee is urging authorities to declare a public health state of emergency, as cases have increased over the last few weeks.

It has called for the implementation of a partial curfew and the closure of wedding halls, shopping centres and mosques, outside of prayer times.

The total number of Covid-19 cases recorded in Yemen has now risen to 4,247. It has reported 864 deaths.

Infection numbers  are likely to be far higher, because the level of testing remains low, with healthcare infrastructure badly hit by six years of conflict.

The arrival of the vaccine doses is a critical moment for Yemen, Unicef representative Philippe Duamelle said.

“As Covid-19 continues to claim lives around the world, Yemen now has the capacity to protect those most at risk, including health workers, so that they can safely continue to provide life-saving interventions for children and families,” he said.

Adham Ismail, World Health Organisation representative in Yemen, said the vaccine shipment was a significant step forward.

"It will help save lives, including those at the highest risk of serious disease, and will help protect the health system," Mr Ismail said.

"These safe and effective vaccines will be a game changer, but for the foreseeable future, we must continue wearing masks, physically distance and avoid crowds," he said.

Senior figures in Aden encouraged the public to take the vaccine, after misinformation had made some people hesitant.

"People must take the vaccine as soon as the vaccination campaign begins," Mohammed Abbas, chairman of Save My Life Foundation, a civil medical organisation active in Aden and neighbouring provinces, told The National. 

"I encourage everybody to take it because the pandemic has drastically hit the country. It will stop it from spreading," he said.

Dr Abbas said people all over the world have taken the vaccine, "so why should Yemenis fear it?"

Mariam Mohammed, a journalist from Aden, told The National she would take the vaccine to prevent the number of cases increasing.

"The pandemic is spreading in Yemen very fast this time. We hear horrific numbers recorded every day, so taking the vaccine is very important as it is the best solution to stop the second wave of Covid-19," she said.

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