Ukraine starts its COVID-19 vaccination campaign

KYIV, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Ukraine started its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Wednesday, with doctors the first to be inoculated.

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said vaccinations had begun and Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said on the Telegram messaging app: “The safe vaccination process will take place on a voluntary basis and will be carried out by qualified mobile teams.”

Ukraine, one of Europe’s poorer countries, has lagged behind its neighbours in securing vaccines for its 41 million people, asking European Union member states for help while refusing to buy the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.

But it received its first batch of 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday. The doses were produced by the Serum Institute of India, the world largest vaccine manufacturer.

Ukraine had planned to launch mass vaccinations in mid-February through the global COVAX programme for poorer countries but the government said the roll-out was postponed because of a delivery delay.

Coronavirus cases have picked up after a lull during a tight lockdown at the start of the year. The government has set up mobile hospitals in western Ukraine to cope with a sharp spike in cases in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.

Ukraine has registered more than 1.3 million cases and 25,309 deaths for COVID-19.

Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage