Saudi Arabia announces COVID-19 vaccination program

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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A three-phase COVID-19 vaccination program has been announced by Saudi Arabia as it started to register citizens and foreign residents after the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

In the first stage, people over 65 years of age as well as those with chronic illnesses or at high risk of infection will receive the vaccine, and in the second stage those over 50 years of age will be considered.

In the third stage, everybody else would be vaccinated, the health ministry informed, without specifying the dates for each stage or how long it will take for the mass campaign.

According to official estimates, the Gulf kingdom has a population of more than 34 million.

Through an online application called “Sehaty” the ministry opened registrations for the vaccination campaign and said the vaccine would be “free for all citizens and residents.”

Last week, the kingdom approved the use of the vaccine developed by US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, becoming the second Gulf country after Bahrain to authorize the drug.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has also been approved by Britain, Canada and the United States and has already initiated mass immunization campaigns. Recently, neighboring Jordan also green-lighted the drug.

Saudi Arabia has so far recorded more than 360,000 novel coronavirus cases, including more than 6,000 deaths which is the highest in the Gulf. But the kingdom has also reported a high recovery rate.

The start of the first vaccination programs comes with several European countries announcing new lockdowns amid increasing infections, highlighting the long road to ending the pandemic which has killed more than 1.6 million people worldwide.

Last day, the UAE launched COVID-19 vaccinations in the capital Abu Dhabi, days after it approved the jab by Chinese drugs giant Sinopharm. The nation was one of the first countries to start widespread inoculation, after Britain became the first to roll out a campaign using a vaccine by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.