COVAX to supply 355 million vaccine doses for Eastern Med this year - WHO official

FILE PHOTO: Vials labelled "COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" are placed on dry ice in this illustration
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CAIRO (Reuters) - The COVAX vaccine sharing platform expects to have 25 million coronavirus vaccine doses for the Eastern Mediterranean region in March, rising to 355 million doses by December, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Wednesday.

The first doses provided for the region through COVAX will arrive in February, WHO official Yvan Hutin told reporters.

The WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region comprises of Middle Eastern countries as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Djibouti.

COVAX is co-led by the GAVI vaccine alliance, the WHO and others, and is designed to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations globally. COVAX has said it aims to deliver 1.8 billion doses to poorer countries this year.

At least five countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region will benefit from the first wave of COVAX vaccines though the list of countries is yet been confirmed, said Richard Brennan, a second WHO official.

Countries with larger populations, lower income and weaker health systems that are expected to make slower progress vaccinating will be prioritised in the COVAX vaccine rollout, officials said.

Eight countries in the Eastern Mediterranean have started vaccination campaigns. Ten countries in the region have documented one or more coronavirus variants, though its likely that the variants have spread further, Brennan said.

(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir and Aidan Lewis; editing by Jason Neely and Angus MacSwan)