KABUL: India provided a vital boost to Afghanistan on Sunday by shipping 500,000 free doses of Covishield, a vaccine that protects from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection, to curb the spread of the virus in the war-torn country, local officials said.
“Fortunately, we are going to receive 500,000 doses of the vaccine today,” Dastargir Nazari, a Health Ministry spokesman, told Arab News.
Produced by Indian pharma company Bharat Biotech, Kabul will start rolling out the Covishield jab — the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the UK — from next week, after receiving certification from the World Health Organisation.
Masooma Jafari, another spokesman for the ministry, said that front-line healthcare workers would be prioritized for the vaccination drive, followed by school teachers, prisoners, security forces, and the elderly.
As of Saturday, Afghanistan’s national caseload stood at 55,335, with 2,410 deaths reported since the start of the pandemic last year.
“This is part of our joint efforts to tackle the pandemic …” Tahir Qadery, minister-counsellor for Afghanistan (Charge d’Affaires) in India, told Arab News.
“The vaccines will enable us to be well prepared to move towards normalcy. Our Indian counterparts have assured us of more vaccines in the future. This is a great gesture of humanity, and we are deeply grateful,” he added.
Nazari said the Chinese Embassy in Kabul had also pledged to offer 200,000 doses to Afghanistan and that more details were expected after “both sides discussed the matter further.”
Meanwhile, a government source who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that China has also promised to “give vaccines to Taliban insurgents for use in areas under their control.”
Kabul has been heavily reliant on foreign aid in the fight against the pandemic. There were several complaints of resources being embezzled during a distribution program last year and further concerns about the mismanagement of funds in the country grappling with poverty, poor health infrastructure and daily violence.
Experts said New Delhi’s gesture was part of its latest chapter of so-called “vaccine diplomacy.”
Torek Farhadi, an adviser for the former Afghani government, told Arab News: “New Delhi has used COVID-19 vaccines as part of its soft power diplomacy by shipping some to friendly countries such as the Maldives a month ago, and now to Kabul.”
He added: “It is much appreciated by the Afghans. China has promised vaccines to Taliban as well but India scores points with Kabul by being the first country to send vaccines to Afghanistan.”