With Syria divided by war, vaccinations in government-controlled areas, nearly 60% of the country’s territory, take place separately

A COVID-19 vaccination campaign began on Saturday in the last rebel-held Syrian enclave, with a 45-year-old frontline nurse becoming the first to receive a UN-secured blow.

Nizar Fattouh, a nurse at Ibn Sina Hospital in the city of Idlib, received one of 53,800 AstraZeneca vaccines delivered to northwestern Syria via Turkey on April 21.

The vaccines come amid a new wave of infections in this war-torn country. Syria’s oxygen supplies are depleted and its hospitals were already overwhelmed by 10 years of conflict and deteriorating health services.

AstraZeneca vaccines were delivered to the rebel-controlled area via a border crossing with Turkey, the only gateway from the northwest territory to the outside world.

Idlib health official Yasser Najib said the beatings were delivered through the UN-led COVAX program for poor and developing countries around the world.

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He said the vaccination campaign will last 21 working days, starting Saturday at two of the enclave’s largest hospitals. On Monday, the campaign will take place in other health centers, Najib said.

He said the small amount of doses means prioritizing healthcare workers and aid workers who are on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus. Infections among health workers in the enclave have been high, accounting for up to 30% of confirmed cases at any given time.

There are more than 21,000 confirmed infections in rebel-controlled Idlib province, home to 4 million people, most of them displaced from different parts of Syria by the conflict. At least 641 have died in the region from complications from COVID-19. Conflict has subsided in the region, but outbreaks of violence are still reported.

With Syria divided by war, vaccinations in government-controlled areas, nearly 60% of the country’s territory, take place separately.

The Syrian government has obtained 200,000 vaccines under the UN-led program, but has also obtained doses from China, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. A limited vaccination campaign has also started in government-controlled areas which are under increased pressure on hospitals.

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In the Kurdish-controlled northeast, authorities said this week they would extend a partial lockdown amid a surge in infections. The week-long extension comes as an international humanitarian group warned of oxygen shortages in the region.

Northeastern Syria, administered by a Kurdish-led authority, does not have a separate inoculation program and depends on Damascus for virus testing and vaccinations. The local health department has reported 123 new cases and 14 deaths in the region, which is home to nearly 4 million people and borders Turkey and Iraq. The new cases bring the region’s total coronavirus cases to nearly 15,800, including 571 deaths.

The World Health Organization said the vaccination campaign in Syria aims to immunize 20% of the total population residing in the country by the end of the year.

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