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Ukraine kicks off vaccine drive after delays spark ire

  • Ukraine received 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine on Tuesday, marketed under the name Covishield and produced at the Serum Institute in India.
24 Feb, 2021

KIEV: Ukraine on Wednesday launched a nationwide campaign to inoculate its population against the coronavirus, following delays that sparked anger against the government in one of Europe's poorest countries.

The ex-Soviet republic of 40 million people has struggled to keep up with other European countries in sourcing vaccines to begin inoculating its population.

Oleksandr Skichko, governor of the central Cherkasy region, announced that Ukraine's vaccine rollout had officially begun Wednesday after a medical professional in his region was given the jab.

"We have vaccinated the first doctor," Skichko said.

Ukraine received 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine on Tuesday, marketed under the name Covishield and produced at the Serum Institute in India.

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov told reporters earlier Wednesday that the first of those doses had been dispatched to regions outside the capital.

His ministry has set out a five-stage jab rollout beginning with 367,000 people in priority groups who will be administered the vaccine by mobile teams.

The first group includes healthcare workers treating Covid-19 patients and the elderly with chronic illnesses. The ministry said vaccinations will be voluntary.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had faced criticism for failing to obtain vaccines for his country whose ageing public health system has been under strain during the pandemic.

Health officials have so far recorded over 1.3 million cases and more than 25,000 deaths from the virus.

Zelensky blamed the delay on wealthy Western countries which he said had reserved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in bulk. He has urged the EU to help eastern European countries.

His government originally announced it would begin its vaccination campaign in mid-February, but that date was pushed back after the arrival of vaccines was delayed.

Stepanov insisted Wednesday that the vaccination campaign was launched "in accordance with the government's plan," and instead focused on a speedy nationwide rollout.

"It is important for us that the maximum number of Ukrainians are inoculated," he said in a statement.

Ukraine earlier this week greenlighted the use of the Pfizer vaccine and is awaiting the delivery of 100,000 doses that are part of eight million due under the global Covax programme.

But doctors raised concerns Wednesday that fewer Ukrainians -- including medial professionals -- were likely to volunteer to be vaccinated with the Indian-produced jab.

"When we talked about Pfizer, we were more confident. But there are more fears with this Indian vaccine," said Valentyn Bagnyuk, director of a hospital in the town of Brovary outside Kiev where vaccinations began Wednesday.

According to a Gallup poll published this month, 65 percent of Ukrainians want to inoculated against coronavirus.

Ukraine has said it also secured a total 17 million doses of vaccines developed by Novavax and AstraZeneca, including the 500,000 that arrived Tuesday.

And it has signed a contract to receive 1.9 million doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine.

The government earlier this month banned the use of one of the most popular vaccines in former Soviet republics, the Russian-developed Sputnik V jab, describing the vaccine as having been produced by an "aggressor".

Ukraine's army has been fighting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since pro-Russian militias launched a bid for independence in the wake of Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Separatist authorities said earlier they had begun inoculating residents of the two breakaway regions using Sputnik V.


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