Saudi Arabia will make coronavirus vaccines free to residents

The kingdom hopes to vaccinate up to 70% of its population by the end of 2021.

al-monitor A mask-clad Pakistani traveler arriving to Saudi Arabia to perform the year-round Umrah pilgrimage is welcomed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on Nov. 30, 2020, before being sequestered for three days as a COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic precaution. Photo by AFP via Getty Images.

Nov 24, 2020

Saudi Arabia aims to vaccinate up to 70% of the kingdom’s population against the coronavirus by the end 2021, the Health Ministry said Monday. 

"The COVID-19 vaccine will be available to everyone in Saudi Arabia for free. ... We hope to have enough vaccines to cover 70% of the country's population free of charge by the end of 2021," Abdullah Asiri, assistant undersecretary at the Health Ministry, said on state television. 

Asiri said Saudi Arabia will obtain the vaccines through Covax, a vaccine fund agreed to by more than 156 countries, as well as through contracts with drug manufacturers. The vaccine will not be offered to Saudi residents under 16 unless further research demonstrates a need, he said. 

The race to find a vaccine for COVID-19, which has killed over 1.3 million people worldwide, has shown promising results in recent weeks. US companies Pfizer and Moderna announced earlier this month that their vaccine candidates are more than 90% effective. 

On Monday, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford released trial results that indicated their vaccine candidate also will be effective. In Israel, researchers are conducting human trials of a vaccine they hope to roll out to the public next summer. 

Following the virtual Group of 20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia over the weekend, leaders pledged to “spare no effort” to ensure an affordable vaccine is made available for all. The group’s final communique, however, did not lay out on how the world’s wealthiest economies planned to allocate and distribute vaccines to poorer countries. 

Saudi Arabia, with a population of some 34 million people, has one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the Middle East. Health officials announced 252 new cases of the coronavirus Tuesday, bringing the Gulf country’s total number of infections since March to 355,741. Fifteen more people died from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 5,811.

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