CORRECTED-Vietnam to start COVID-19 vaccinations in March -state media

(Corrects Fahrenheit temperature conversion in paragraph 4)

HANOI, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Vietnam will begin its COVID-19 vaccination programme next month with frontline healthcare staff and the elderly in line for the first doses as the country tackles a new wave of coronavirus infections, state media reported on Monday.

The Southeast Asian country expects to receive 60 million doses this year, including 30 million under the WHO-led COVAX scheme, with a first batch of 204,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to arrive on Feb. 28.

“The first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations, prioritising frontline medical workers and high-risk groups, will begin in March right after the first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrives and passes quality checks,” the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.

Refrigerators able to store vaccines at temperatures of -86 to -40 degrees Celsius (-122.8°F to -40°F) had been prepared in the country’s three biggest cities of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang, the paper said.

The government said previously it was in talks with Russian and U.S. vaccine manufacturers on potential supply agreements, while it expects a home-grown vaccine to be ready for domestic inoculation by May.

Vietnam’s health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment its vaccination programme.

Late last month, Vietnam approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use days after the country detected the first locally transmitted cases in nearly two months.

Thanks to targeted mass testing and strict quarantining, Vietnam managed to successfully contain the virus for months but a fresh outbreak has proved more difficult to stamp out.

The country of 98 million people has recorded 791 new cases since the latest outbreak started last month, or about a third of its overall caseload of 2,383 infections since cases were first detected a year ago. Vietnam has reported 35 deaths due to the virus. (Reporting by Phuong Nguyen and Khanh Vu Editing by Ed Davies)