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© Reuters. Senegal kicks off COVID-19 vaccination programme

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DAKAR (Reuters) – Senegal kicked off its wider COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Wednesday, after an official launch ceremony the day before saw dozens of officials vaccinated to demonstrate its safety.

Around 100,000 people are expected to be vaccinated with 200,000 doses purchased from China’s Sinopharm, which arrived in Senegal last week.

At a health centre in Patte d’Oie, a densely populated neighbourhood of Senegal’s capital Dakar, the halls were packed with people, mostly the elderly, wearing colorful clothes, including imams in flowing robes and a pair of Catholic priests in their cassocks.

Ousmane Dieng, an imam, said he traveled throughout the city ahead of the campaign’s launch, hoping to convince people to put aside fear and take the vaccine for the greater good.

“It was with a feeling of immense joy that we welcomed the vaccine. We are fully confident about it, knowing it won’t kill us,” Dieng said after getting his shot.

The West African country is one of the first in the region to start vaccinating its population against COVID-19. It has so far recorded 33,242 cases and 832 deaths from the disease.

“We have seen how COVID manifests itself, and so it was with a smile that we can get vaccinated and at last achieve immunity,” said Baye Moussa Samba, a doctor at a health centre in the Sicap neighbourhood, which was previously a COVID testing centre.

Senegal aims to inoculate about 90% of a targeted 3.5 million people, including health workers and high-risk individuals, by the end of 2021.

As a lower-middle income country, Senegal is eligible for about 1.3 million vaccine doses for free through the first wave of the World Health Organization’s COVAX programme in early March.

The country is negotiating with Russian for more vaccines and is also eligible to get 3.4 million doses for just under $23 million under an African Union plan.

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