Ethiopia gave out its first coronavirus vaccine doses on Saturday, as the health ministry warned of an “alarming” increase in cases.

Africa’s second most populous country last week received 2.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, and is targeting health workers during the first phase of its vaccine drive.

Some of the first shots were administered at Eka Kotebe General Hospital in the capital Addis Ababa on Saturday.

“I was waiting for this moment, because I believe this will help us to protect ourselves to some level,” Marta Tadesse, a nurse at the hospital, told AFP.

Officials also organised kickoff events in six other regions, including Tigray, where the Ethiopian military is battling forces aligned with the recently-ousted regional ruling party, state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported.

Ethiopia has so far registered 172,571 cases of Covid-19, the fifth-highest total in Africa and the highest in East Africa.

It has recorded 2,510 deaths.

Over the past month, both cases and deaths have risen by 11 percent on average each week, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The virus is spreading recently in a worrying way. It has reached an alarming stage,” Dr Dereje Duguma, a senior health ministry official, said at the kickoff event in Addis Ababa.

“Despite this, the negligence of our society has also increased. We are going backward in terms of following the basic precautions.”

Ethiopia hopes to vaccinate 20 percent of its roughly 110 million people by the end of the year.

Its AstraZeneca doses were allocated under the Covax initiative which is working to facilitate vaccine access for poorer countries.

So far officials have not arranged for any separate vaccine shipments to supplement what Covax can provide.

Dr Yared Agidew, CEO of Eka Kotebe General Hospital, told AFP Saturday that the launch of Ethiopia’s vaccine drive brought “mixed feelings” for him and his staff.

“In one way we are happy that we are being vaccinated today. On the other hand the vaccine which is available in Ethiopia is not enough for the whole community,” he said.

“It means the pandemic is not yet over. We’re going to have patients coming to the hospital maybe for the next six months or so.”

The hospital’s 15-bed intensive care unit is already full and faces a possible oxygen shortage, Yared said.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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