YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar on Friday received 1.5 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine supplied by India to inoculate 750,000 people, the first vaccine batch delivered to the Southeast Asian country as it fights one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the region.
India is donating millions of doses of vaccines to a string of countries in Asia, drawing praise from neighbours and pushing back against China’s dominating presence in the region.
Shipments of AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, have already gone to the Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Myanmar was among the countries next in line to get free consignments as India moved before China which has also pledged to supply vaccines to its neighbour.
“This is a gift from India to Myanmar,” Saurabh Kumar, India’s ambassador to Myanmar, told reporters at Yangon airport, where he oversaw the arrival of the vaccine.
Myanmar health ministry spokeswoman Khin Khin Gyi said the vaccine would be kept in Yangon in special refrigerated rooms before being rolled out next week.
“Healthcare workers will be first priority and elderly people will be next,” she said, noting Myanmar has more than 110,000 medical workers.
Despite the arrival of vaccines, Khin Khin Gyi urged people in Myanmar not to get complacent and follow health protocols to prevent further spread of the virus.
In a post on an official government Facebook page, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged “all our people to support us to make all COVID-19 control and treatment programmes a success”.
After containing the number of COVID-19 cases at the beginning of the pandemic, Myanmar is now struggling with a second wave, recording more than 136,000 cases and 3,000 deaths.
The number of daily new cases has dropped recently, though medical experts say it is unlikely to provide a full picture given relatively low testing rates.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a visit last week promised Myanmar 300,000 doses of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine.
(Reporting by Shoon Naing; Editing by Ed Davies)