Myanmar has launched its COVID-19 vaccination program, with healthcare staff and volunteer medical workers the first to receive shots of the AstraZenca and Oxford University vaccine donated by neighbouring India.
The Southeast Asian country managed to contain the virus early in the pandemic, but is now fighting a second wave.
It has recorded more than 138,000 cases and 3082 deaths.
Last week, Myanmar received 1.5 million doses of the vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, amid a diplomatic drive by New Delhi to supply neighbouring countries in competition with fellow regional powerhouse China, which has also pledged vaccine consignments.
“This should create a situation to reduce the rate of infection, so it is such a relief for healthcare workers,” Tun Myint, a health ministry official overseeing vaccinations at the Yangon General Hospital, said.
The number of reported daily new COVID-19 cases in Myanmar has dropped recently, though medical experts say it is unlikely to provide a full picture given relatively low testing rates.
“We are so tired from the long fight” against the pandemic, volunteer medical worker Khant Ko Ko, who received a vaccine shot at the Ayeyarwady Centre in Yangon, said.
Myanmar’s fragile healthcare system has relied heavily on thousands of volunteers to assist during the pandemic.
The next group of people due to be inoculated will be members of parliament on Friday and Saturday, the health ministry has said.
Myanmar has an ambitious target to vaccinate the whole population, of about 54 million people, this year.
The health ministry has said up to 30 million additional doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been ordered, with a further two million due to arrive by the first week of February.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a visit this month promised Myanmar 300,000 doses of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine.