DR Congo to launch COVID vaccination drive

People will start receiving shots across the vast central African country from Monday, Interior Minister Gilbert Kankonde said on state television.

FILE: Anti-COVID vaccination is a sensitive issue in the DR Congo, where conspiracy theories air widely on social media. Picture: 123rf.com

KINSHASA, DR Congo - The DR Congo will kick off a COVID vaccination drive next week, the government said Wednesday, despite persistent public wariness over potential side effects from the drugs.

People will start receiving shots across the vast central African country from Monday, Interior Minister Gilbert Kankonde said on state television.

Anti-COVID vaccination is a sensitive issue in the DR Congo, where conspiracy theories air widely on social media.

"Vaccination will be voluntary, and preference will be given to healthcare staff, vulnerable people with chronic illnesses and all those who are highly exposed (to the virus) while carrying out their work," Kankonde said.

The Covax vaccine sharing scheme supplied 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses to the DRC in early March.

The vaccination drive was meant to start on March 15 but was delayed "as a precaution" after several countries suspended the use of AstraZeneca because of a scare over the risk of blood clots.

Kankonde said Wednesday that a team of Congolese experts has determined that the AstraZaneca vaccine "poses no disadvantages to the people".

The minister also said an evening curfew would be lifted in provinces with little circulation of the virus, without naming them.

"In other provinces including the city of Kinshasa where the epidemic's curve is flattening, the current curfew is moved to 10 pm until 4 am," he said.

The former Belgian colony began observing a nationwide curfew, running from 9 pm to 5 am, on December 18.

The country has recorded 28,665 infections and 745 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March last year, according to the latest figures out Monday.

Of the country's 26 provinces, 23 have been affected, with 20,416 of the cases in the Kinshasa area, followed by 2,175 cases in North Kivu province in the troubled east of the country.

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