Saudi Arabia has said that it will make coronavirus vaccines free to residents and hopes to vaccinate up to 70 per cent of its population by the end of 2021.
"The COVID-19 vaccine will be available to everyone in Saudi Arabia for free," the kingdom's Health Ministry Undersecretary Abdullah Asiri said on Monday according to Al-Monitor. "We hope to have enough vaccines to cover 70% of the country's population free of charge by the end of 2021."
Asiri explained that the vaccine will be obtained through COVAX, a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines. The vaccine will not be offered to Saudi residents under the age of 16 unless they have special medical needs, he said.
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. "One of the most important goals set by the G20 during Saudi Arabia's G20 presidency is to support all-inclusive and equitable access to vaccines, diagnostic and treatment tools," Asiri is reported saying.
Saudi Arabia will be amongst the first countries to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine according to Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, who announced the news during a briefing at last weekend's G20 summit.
Al Rabeeah said the kingdom had spent more than $200 million on vaccine and drug development.
The GCC countries exceeded one million COVID-19 cases this week. Saudi Arabia has the highest regional count, with more than 355,000 infections and 5,811 deaths. The United Arab Emirates comes in second, with a total of 1,578 new daily cases.
The kingdom's economy is also one of the worst to be hit by the global pandemic, shrinking for the fifth consecutive financial quarter. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast the kingdom's economy will shrink by at least 5.4 per cent this financial year but still estimated a 3.1 per cent growth in 2021.