DR Congo launches AstraZeneca vaccine drive

Distrust of the vaccine is commonplace in the DR Congo, where conspiracy theories are widely shared on social media.

FILE: Vials of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and a syringe. Picture: Joel Saget/AFP.

KINSHASA, DR Congo - The DR Congo on Monday launched a vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in the capital Kinshasa, with top officials and foreign envoys stressing the safety of the AstraZeneca jab.

"There are more advantages than disadvantages to getting vaccinated," Health Minister Eteni Longondo said at a launch ceremony, becoming among the first to receive a shot at Kinshasa University's medical school.

The European Union's ambassador to the DRC, Jean-Marc Chataigner, and UN humanitarian affairs coordinator David McLachlan-Karr also received jabs.

"It's an important voluntary gesture, a gesture of solidarity towards others," Chataigner told AFP.

Distrust of the vaccine is commonplace in the DR Congo, where conspiracy theories are widely shared on social media.

A Congolese health official said the distrust could have been deepened by "unfortunate communication around AstraZeneca in Europe".

Vaccination drives around the world have been dealt a blow by blood clot concerns over the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca jabs.

The DR Congo delayed the launch of its vaccination drive, initially set for March 15, as a precaution after other countries suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Interior Minister Gilbert Kankonde said Congolese experts had determined that doses of AstraZeneca already available in the former Belgian colony posed no danger to the population.

"The vaccination will be voluntary and priority will be given to healthcare personnel, vulnerable people, those with chronic illnesses and all those who are greatly exposed while carrying out their work," he said last week.

The country of more than 80 million people has received 1.7 million doses of AstraZeneca through Covax, a World Health Organization-backed effort to procure and distribute inoculations to poor countries.

The vast central African country has officially registered 28,956 cases of COVID-19, with 745 deaths, since the start of the pandemic last year.

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