CAIRO (AP) — Yemen’s internationally recognized government began a coronavirus vaccination campaign Tuesday as the U.N. warned the pandemic was “roaring back” in recent weeks.
The campaign started in the southern city of Aden, which serves as an interim capital for the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, according to the U.N. children’s agency.
Health Minister Wasim Buhaibeh and UNICEF Representative Philippe Duamelle were the first to receive shots in Aden.
“So, now the vaccines are available in Yemen. The campaign is rolling to protect people. So, it is important now people come forward,” Duamelle.
The campaign comes three weeks after Yemen received its first 360,000-dose shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative.
The shipment, produced by the Serum Institute in India, was the first batch of 1.9 million doses that Yemen would initially receive throughout 2021.
The first stage of the campaign would cover government-held areas. Ishraq al-Sebaei, an official on the government’s emergency coronavirus committee, said they would send 10,000 doses to Houthi-held Sanaa through the U.N. health agency.
Yemen has been convulsed by civil war since 2014 when the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital Sanaa and much of the northern part of the country. That forced Hadi’s government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia. A U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened the following year against the Houthis to try to restore Hadi’s rule.
The vaccination campaign comes as a second wave overwhelms the country’s depleted medical facilities. U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned that the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in Yemen was getting even worse with the COVID-19 pandemic “roaring back.”
The international aid group Doctors Without Borders said Thursday it is witnessing “a dramatic influx” of critically ill COVID-19 patients in the war-stricken country.
“All aspects of the COVID-19 intervention are lacking and need greater international support, from public health messaging, to vaccinations, to oxygen therapy — support is needed across the board,” said Raphael Veicht, the group’s head of mission in Yemen.
More than 3,000 infectious cases, including 800 deaths, have been recorded in Yemen since the outbreak of the pandemic. However, the actual toll is believed to be much higher given the scarcity of testing.