Over 53,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib as part of the WHO-led COVAX programme.

The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines arrived Wednesday in war-torn northwestern Syria, under the global vaccine-support program COVAX.

53,800 AstraZeneca doses were received.

Inoculations are set to start May 1 in the opposition-dominated region, where millions live in dire humanitarian conditions amid brutal air bombardments by the Assad regime and its ally Russia.

Around noon, a truck carrying the vaccines crossed the Bab al Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Idlib. The vaccines were then unloaded and placed in a cold storage facility.

"Today, we received the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines," said Abdul Hamid al Hussein of the Physicians Across Continents group which accompanied the shipment into Syria. 

The delivery marks a first for Syria as part of the World Health Organisation (WHO)-led COVAX programme, which aims to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccinations. The programme has already sent vaccine doses to more than 100 countries and territories worldwide.

The doses are intended to be delivered to all parts of the northwestern Syrian region, including opposition-dominated Idlib.

Mahmoud Daher, a senior WHO official, said the UN is ready to administer more Covid-19 shots to the most vulnerable people. 

"Once the vaccines arrive, we are prepared to start vaccination to priority groups through our implementing partners," Daher told AFP before the vaccines crossed into Idlib.

Local health officials expect two more batches to arrive throughout the year to vaccinate around 850,000 people in northwest Syria.

Priority will be given to medical and humanitarian workers, those above 60 years old, and those with chronic diseases said Hossam Kora, who heads coordination for coronavirus within the Idlib health directorate.

COVAX is jointly led by the public-private alliance Gavi, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

On the other hand, COVAX handed over more than 200,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the Assad regime on Thursday, according to the country's state media.

The delivery comes as Syria's war-ravaged medical sector grapples with a Covid-19 outbreak that has accelerated rapidly in recent months. 

Vaccination for health workers has started in regime-controlled areas, but not with doses received as part of the COVAX programme.

While Syria's official Covid-19 death toll is 1,483 -low compared to other countries in the region - credible data collection is hard to attain across the conflict-ravaged country.

Syria was hard hit by the pandemic last year during two spikes in August and December, with another spike just last month.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies