COVID vaccinations in Afghanistan have dropped by nearly 80% in the first week since the Taliban seized power, according to United Nations agency UNICEF. The agency warned that nearly half of the vaccines that have been delivered to Afghanistan are nearing their expiry dates. The Taliban took over power from the western-alliance backed civilian administration, essentially by force, on August 15.

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In the week starting August 15, 30,500 people had received vaccines against COVID-19 in 23 out of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan. The week before that, 134,600 people received vaccines in 30 provinces, according to data provided by UNICEF. In Afghanistan, it is the UNICEF that coordinates rollout of COVID-19 shots distributed by the World Health Organization (WHO) through the Covax programme.

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“The drop is understandable, as in situations of chaos, conflict and emergency, people will prioritise their safety and security first,” the UNICEF spokesperson said, adding that the UN agency has been calling on Afghan healthcare workers to return to work. The UNICEF spokesperson declined to comment on whether the drop in vaccinations was a result of Taliban’s takeover, reports Reuters.

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Around two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are currently in Afghanistan. Nearly half of them are scheduled to expire in November, according to the UNICEF spokesperson. So far, 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Afghanistan, WHO data show. This is only a fraction of the 40-million strong Afghan population.

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Gavi, the organisation that leads the Covax programme and supplies vaccines to countries which struggle to obtain them, said that it has sent four million vaccines to Afghanistan so far. “Our priority today is to work with UNICEF and WHO country offices to ensure our ability to continue the country’s COVID-19 vaccination programme,” a Gavi spokesperson told Reuters.

While none of the international groups have attributed blame on the Taliban for the slowing rate of vaccinations, reports are doing the rounds about Taliban having banned COVID vaccination in the Paktia region of Afghanistan, according to Hindustan Times.