Riyadh: Saudi Arabia launched a three-phase Covid-19 vaccination program on Thursday. After the first batch of Pfizer’s BioNTech vaccine arrived in Saudi Arabia, the Minister of Health started the vaccination.
Along with Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah, a woman in a wheelchair and another man were among the first to be administered the vaccine at a centre in Riyadh, an AFP photographer reported.
“This is the beginning of the end of the crisis,” Rabiah told reporters.
People aged over 65 as well as those with chronic ailments or at a high risk of infection will receive the vaccine in the first stage, and those aged over 50 in the second, the health ministry said this week.
The Ministry of Health said that everyone else will be vaccinated in the third phase, but did not specify the dates for each phase or how long the mass campaign will take.
The Gulf kingdom has a population of more than 34 million, according to official figures.
More than 100,000 people have registered so far through an online application called “Sehaty”, the ministry said, adding that the vaccine would be “free for all citizens and residents”.
Last week, Saudi Arabia approved the use of a vaccine developed by the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, becoming the second Gulf country after Bahrain.
The United Kingdom, Canada and the United States have also approved Pfizer’s BioNTech vaccine and have launched a mass vaccination campaign. Neighboring Jordan gave the green light for the drug on Monday.
Saudi Arabia has so far recorded more than 360,000 novel coronavirus cases, including more than 6,000 deaths — the highest among the Gulf Arab states. But the kingdom has also reported a high recovery rate.
The start of the first vaccination programmes comes with several European countries announcing new lockdowns amid spiralling infections, highlighting the long road to ending the pandemic which has killed more than 1.6 million people worldwide.