Burundi launches COVID-19 vaccination drive

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BUJUMBURA, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Burundi on Monday 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 vaccination campaign started in the commercial capital of Bujumbura without fanfare. Dozens of city residents queued quietly at a vaccination site, telling Reuters they heard about the drive through word of mouth.

No government officials were present to officially inaugurate the launch.

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"I rushed to take the vaccine because I have a trip very soon and, of course, I also want to protect myself," said 30-year-old Blaise, who asked to only use his first name. "People's fears are groundless. I am reassured by the fact that I was with a doctor when I got it."

The jabs administered Monday were part of a Chinese donation of 500,000 Sinopharm doses.

Burundi's President elect Evariste Ndayishimiye takes oath of office during his inauguration ceremony following the sudden death of his predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza, amid the growing threat of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Ingoma stadium in Gitega, Burundi June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana

The health ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Burundi, a country of about 11.5 million, has reported 14 COVID-19 deaths and more than 19,300 positive cases. The country has only sporadically provided data on the spread of the virus over the past 18 months.

Burundi's former president, Pierre Nkurunziza, downplayed the severity of the virus, did not take significant measures to curb its spread, and even expelled the national lead of the World Health Organization (WHO).

President Evariste Ndayishimiye, who took office in June 2020 after Nkurunziza's death, promised a more proactive approach in combating the virus.

The start of the campaign leaves Eritrea as the only African country that has yet to start vaccinating its people.

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Reporting by Nairobi Newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson

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