Burundi launches COVID-19 vaccination drive

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Burundi has rolled out its first COVID-19 vaccines, months after most African countries, the latest step in the East African nation’s shift towards a more active approach to containing the pandemic.

The East African country takes a more active approach towards containing the pandemic.

But the inoculation drive is late even by the standards of a continent where, according to African Union data, less than 5% of people are fully vaccinated.

The launch leaves just Eritrea as the only African country yet to start vaccinating its people.

Burundi’s campaign got underway in the capital Bujumbura to little fanfare. No government officials were present and attendees, like Marie Cecile Degrez, said they heard about the special vaccination center through word of mouth.

“The government did not oblige me to come and get this vaccine. It’s me who wants it, voluntarily.” Burundi’s former president Pierre Nkurunziza downplayed the severity of the virus and did not take significant measures to curb its spread.

The government attributed his death last year to a heart attack, though there were widespread and unproven, rumours that he had contracted COVID-19.

His successor, Evariste Ndayishimiye, vowed to step up the government’s response. Burundi’s first jabs came from a Chinese donation of 500 000 Sinopharm shots received by Health Minister Thadee Ndikumana last week.

He said registration sites would be set up across the country for those who want to be vaccinated. Ndikumana added that 2.4 million doses provided via the global sharing scheme COVAX are expected as early as next week.

Burundi, with a population 11.5 million people, has reported just 14 COVID-19 deaths and more than 19 300 positive cases. But the country has only rarely and sporadically provided data.