DAKAR (Reuters) – Senegal launched its broad-based COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Wednesday after dozens of officials were inoculated at an official launch ceremony the previous day to demonstrate the vaccine’s safety.
About 100,000 people are expected to be vaccinated with 200,000 doses purchased from Chinese company Sinopharm that arrived in Senegal last week.
At a health center in Patte d’Oie, a densely populated neighborhood in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, the halls were packed with people, mostly elderly, wearing colorful clothing, including imams in flowing robes and a pair of Catholic priests in their cassocks.
Ousmane Dieng, an imam, said he toured the city before the campaign launch, hoping to convince people to put fear aside and take the vaccine for the greater good.
“We embraced the vaccine with a sense of great joy. We have full confidence in it because we know it will not kill us,” Dieng said after receiving the vaccine.
The West African country is one of the first in the region to begin vaccinating its population against COVID-19. So far, 33,242 cases and 832 deaths from the disease have been recorded.
“We have seen COVID manifesting itself, so we have been smiling that we can get vaccinated and finally get immunity,” said Baye Moussa Samba, a doctor at a health center in the Sicap district that was previously a COVID testing center.
Senegal has set a goal of vaccinating about 90% of the targeted 3.5 million people by the end of 2021, including health workers and high-risk individuals.
As a low- to middle-income country, Senegal is eligible for about 1.3 million free vaccine doses under the first wave of the World Health Organization’s COVAX program in early March.
The country is negotiating with Russia for more vaccines and is also eligible to receive 3.4 million doses for nearly $23 million under an African Union plan.