Health authorities in Syria's rebel-controlled Idlib governorate received the first batch of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday through the United Nation's Covax scheme, a senior health official told The National.
The international Covax scheme secures free inoculations for the world’s poorest economies.
"We have received about 54,000 jabs in the first batch. A second batch of 255,000 jabs will be received in the third quarter of 2021, as agreed with the UN's World Health Organisation officials," said Dr Hossam Qara Mohammed, the head of coronavirus infection control for Idlib's health authority.
"The total number of jabs allocated to Idlib per our agreement with the WHO is 1.5 million AstraZeneca jabs."
He said the health authority is required to centralise vaccine distribution and create proper storage conditions before obtaining the vaccine. Administration of the sought-after injections will start in early May.
The vaccines were taken to the northern Syria province, the last rebel stronghold, through the Bab al Hawa border crossing with Turkey.
Authorities in Idlib had registered 217,000 coronavirus cases and 640 deaths.
Inoculations will be administered by specially trained teams, first to the province's 28,000 health workers, then to the elderly and those who suffer from chronic diseases.
The number of people who need the vaccine urgently is about 800,000 which amounts to 20 per cent of the total population of Idlib, according to the health official.
The vaccine storage location will be kept private over fears it will be targeted by the regime's frequent air strikes, Dr Qara Mohammed said.
The health authority in the war-torn province has already launched a wide awareness campaign to encourage the eligible groups to register and receive the life-saving vaccine.
A separate 912,000 vaccine doses were allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination in regime-controlled and semi-autonomous Kurdish areas, the WHO said.
The official Covid-19 death toll in Syria is low compared with some other countries in the region but credible data collection across the conflict-ravaged country is almost impossible.
The war in Syria has killed more than 388,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.