JEDDAH: The first consignment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday as the Kingdom launched an inoculation drive to end the COVID-19 outbreak.
The vaccine will be distributed over the next three days and more than 150,000 people have already registered online to be treated.
The injection is free and safe, and Health Minister Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah urged all Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom to register for the vaccination as soon as possible.
“It will be available free of charge to everyone, but we will give priority to those who need it,” he said.
“The priority will be for those over the age of 65, as they are more vulnerable than others to severe infection and death, and those who have chronic diseases, hospital patients, and health practitioners as they deal with the infections.”
Al-Rabiah said Saudi Arabia had successfully dealt with the pandemic from its inception when it spread outside China.
“We witnessed an international race on medical equipment at the beginning stages of the pandemic, but Saudi Arabia placed human health above all and raised the number of intensive care beds by 60 percent within three months,” he said.
Lebanon will sign an agreement this week to secure 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, after making an initial payment of $4 million. It expects to receive the first batch in eight weeks.
A surge in infections is straining Lebanon’s healthcare system amid a financial crisis and after the Beirut port explosion in August devastated many hospitals. The economic meltdown has also prompted many doctors to emigrate and raised concerns that subsidies on medicines will be removed.
Lebanon has also signed up to join COVAX, a global scheme backed by the World Health Organization to provide vaccines to poorer countries.
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan urged UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to help secure more vaccines for Lebanon, where refugees make up at least a quarter of the population. “Protecting all the communities living in Lebanon ... should be part of the same plan,” he said.
In the US, inoculations entered their third day on Wednesday, set aside for frontline medical workers and residents and staff of nursing homes.
More than 137,000 people in Britain have received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in the week since inoculations began.