JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia on Thursday launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign, after recording hundreds of thousands of infections since the start of the pandemic.
The first consignment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in the Kingdom on Wednesday as the country started its inoculation drive to end the outbreak.
The vaccine will be distributed in the coming days and more than 150,000 people have already registered online to be treated.
Saudi Arabia is the second country in the Gulf Cooperation Council, after Bahrain, to use the vaccine after it was approved by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority.
Elderly Saudis and expats who registered in the “Sehaty” app were called in Thursday to take the vaccine, with many expressing their gratitude about being among the first to be treated.
Shaikha Al-Harbi, an elderly Saudi, became the first female to receive the vaccine. “Once they called me, I could not sleep well because of happiness and excitement to come here and take the vaccine. Today, I’m the happiest human being to be vaccinated. I could not be happier.”
Another Saudi, Hamad Amro, said he was “extremely thrilled” to receive the ministry’s call. “I have been waiting for this moment to come months ago.”
An elderly Palestinian woman named Mofeedah was surprised by the speed of the process. “We were very surprised, yesterday was the first day to release the vaccine in the country, and yet we have received a call at night from the Ministry of Health telling us that we can take the vaccine in the morning.”
The Kingdom’s Minister of Health, Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, was among the first batch to be vaccinated as a gesture to reassure and encourage people. “We confirm that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe.”
He and others were treated in the first vaccination center.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had also followed up on the launch of the vaccination process, he said.
“Today is the beginning of the end of this crisis,” the minister told a press conference on Thursday, praising the efforts of the leadership. “There are over 550 clinics in the center to ensure that there is a sufficient quantity of clinics to give the largest possible number of vaccinations. We will have coronavirus vaccination centers in all regions of Saudi Arabia.”
The minister said he had been “anxiously” following up the increase in infections for the past nine months. “However, today, I will happily start following up the numbers of vaccinated people,” he added.
Saudi laboratory specialist Hasnaa Wazeer, who administered his vaccine, said it was “a huge pleasure” to be the first specialist to vaccinate a Saudi health minister.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses to achieve high effectiveness, and the shots are administered three weeks apart.
The vaccination campaign has three stages, each of which has target groups.
The first stage is aimed at citizens and residents aged over 65, those who are most vulnerable to infection, people who are obese and have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 40, those who have immune deficiency, people with a history of strokes, and those who have two or more chronic diseases including asthma, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
#WATCH: The first resident in #SaudiArabia gets the shot as the Kingdom starts its #coronavirus vaccination program. Video from @AlArabiya_KSA. For the story: https://t.co/rstrH5AGuv pic.twitter.com/Wp8HGVE1Z6
— Arab News (@arabnews) December 17, 2020
The second stage targets people who are over 50, health practitioners, and those who have asthma, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic heart disease including coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or active cancer, and those with a BMI of between 30 and 40.
The final stage targets all citizens and residents wanting to take the vaccine.
The Ministry of Health on Thursday reported 11 new COVID-19-related deaths. The death toll is now 6,091.
There were 181 new cases reported in the Kingdom, meaning 360,516 people have now contracted the disease. There are 3,060 active cases, 453 of which are in a critical condition.
According to the ministry, 45 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, there were 37 in Makkah, and 26 in Madinah. The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased by 173 to 351,365. Saudi Arabia has conducted more than 10.5 million PCR tests so far, with 39,441 carried out in the past 24 hours.