KABUL, Afghanistan

Afghanistan Tuesday began its first COVID-19 vaccinations following the World Health Organization’s emergency use approval for shots developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca.

“This is a great opportunity and a great test for the Health Ministry and the entire nation. I call on all segments of the society to work with the Health Ministry,” President Ashraf Ghani told a special ceremony at the presidential palace.

He oversaw the jabs being administered to members of security forces, frontline health workers, and journalists – priority groups in the first phase.

Calling for equal and easy access for all, Ghani said the government aims to vaccinate at least 40% of the population in the war-ravaged country in the coming months. He thanked India for providing the vaccines.

Afghanistan on Feb. 7 received 500,000 doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine from India, locally known as Covishield. It is being produced by the Serum Institute for mid- and low-income countries.

Meanwhile, the UN-led COVAX initiative has pledged $112 million for vaccines to cover 20% of the country’s 38 million population.

Afghanistan’s overall caseload has reached 55,646, including 2,435 related deaths.

The immunization campaign begins amid continuing fighting between Taliban and government forces despite a US-Taliban peace deal and intra-Afghan talks in Qatar.