Iraq's plan to inoculate 8 million begins

Iraq’s government is facing a dual challenge, on one hand, it must convince people to get the vaccine, and at the same time, it is struggling to secure doses from global suppliers.

Video Transcript

SIMONA FOLTYN: After months of delay and contradictory messages from the Ministry of Health, Iraq's COVID-19 vaccination campaign has begun.

SAIF AL BADR: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: We've now received 336,000 vaccines, and they've been distributed, according to plan, to health clinics across Iraq. The priority of health workers, security forces, the elderly, and people with immunity disorders.

SIMONA FOLTYN: That prioritization plan has yet to be implemented. The government first asked people to register online. But because of limited uptake, it then opened the doors to everyone, including young people like Faisal.

FAISAL AKRAM FAISAL: There isn't enough encouragement from the government to take the vaccine. So I don't have the priority to take the vaccine. But I know if I don't come and take it, maybe it would get expired and nobody is going to take it.

SIMONA FOLTYN: Indeed. This batch of vaccines expires at the end of May.

Authorities race against time to mobilize a reluctant public that distrusts both the government and science. 65-year-old Abdulrahman should be a priority candidate. He suffers from hypertension, diabetes, and had one of his kidneys removed. But he has no intention of getting the vaccine.

ABDULRAHMAN ABED: [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

INTERPRETER: People are scared, especially the elderly. Vaccines contain cortisol, which can stop the lungs. So if you ask the elderly about taking the vaccine, their answer will be no.

SIMONA FOLTYN: Iraq's government is facing a dual challenge when it comes to inoculating the population. On the one hand, it must convince people to get the vaccine. And at the same time, it's struggling to secure doses from global suppliers.

The AstraZeneca inoculations Iraq has received are part of 16 million doses. It has been allocated under Covax, the global vaccine alliance to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines. But a World Health Organization's top official in Iraq says delivering on those commitments has been a challenge, as producing countries prioritize their own needs.

AHMED ZOUITEN: The Covax facility have had some delays because the manufacturers did not produce as much vaccines to honor the estimated doses to be distributed.

SIMONA FOLTYN: While those vaccines are pending delivery, new COVID-19 cases are hovering above 5,000 daily, as the country experiences its highest levels of infection since the onset of the pandemic.

Simona Foltyn, Al Jazeera, Baghdad.