Suu Kyi in Line to Get Vaccine Early as Myanmar Readies Rollout

Supporters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Photographer: Sai Aung Main/AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Photographer: Sai Aung Main/AFP/Getty Images

(Bloomberg) -- Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi alongside health workers will be among the first to receive Covid-19 vaccine this week as the Southeast Asian nation seeks to stem the coronavirus outbreak and further relax containment measures.

Frontline healthcare workers will get the shots from Wednesday, according to Khin Khin Gyi, director of emerging infectious disease at Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports. Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and cabinet members will be inoculated the following day in capital Naypyidaw.

Myanmar, which received 1.5 million doses of vaccine from India last week, will expand the inoculation program to those older than 65 years in 74 townships under stay-at-home orders once healthcare workers are covered, Khin Khin Gyi said.

Myanmar’s stay-at-home orders have covered more than one-fourth of its population of almost 55 million from early September to control a second wave of infections that’s seen the nation’s total caseload surge to 137,574 with more than 3,000 fatalities. A vaccine rollout may allow authorities to further ease restrictions in areas including its commercial hub Yangon and in Rakhine state.

Myanmar has signed a contract with Serum Institute of India to buy 30 million doses of Covishield vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford University and is in talks with Chinese manufacturers including Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and Sinopharm for additional supplies. The nation aims to inoculate more than 40% of its population by the end of this year, according to the health ministry.

Suu Kyi’s administration also expects supplies from the global Covax facility before April 7 and the government plans to allow the private sector to import vaccines approved by the World Health Organization later this year, Khin Khin Gyi said.

Over the past week, cases in Myanmar have declined to an average of less than 500 per day, from about 1,300 last month, allowing authorities to ease some of the curbs. Yet, the International Monetary Fund warned the country against easing the virus restrictions too quickly, saying some restrictions need to be still maintained to prevent the outbreak from worsening.