Seychelles bids to reach COVID 'herd immunity' by mid-March

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Pedestrians wear masks as they walk on a street in the capital Victoria, Mahe Island, Seychelles Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The president of the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles says he hopes enough residents will soon be vaccinated against COVID-19 to stop the spread of the virus, hoping to achieve herd immunity by mid-March by vaccinating about 70% of the population. (AP Photo/Salim Ally)

VICTORIA – The Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles had one of the world's first COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, and this month it aims to again break ground by reaching so-called “herd immunity."

In an interview with The Associated Press, President Wavel Ramkalawan said that goal should be reached in mid-March, "when we would have vaccinated 70,000 of our people. That represents 70% because our population is 100,000.”

The country depends heavily on tourism, and when COVID-19 vaccinations in Seychelles began in January, some workers in the tourism industry were among the first to receive them, along with health workers and the president himself.

By the end of February, about 44% of those vaccinated had gotten a second shot.

The country has benefited from so-called vaccine diplomacy. Its vaccination drive started in January with 50,000 doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine donated by the United Arab Emirates, a close trading partner, according to the Seychelles News Agency. The Emirati carrier, Etihad Airways, has a substantial stake in Air Seychelles.

And India donated 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India. The government of Seychelles, which has a significant population of Indian descent, said it purchased an additional 40,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to have enough to inoculate 70,000 people.

“We have a lot of good friends that love us,” Vanessa Lesperance, a medical officer in the Indian Ocean island nation, told the AP last month. “That made it easier for us to get a steady supply of vaccines.”

She added: “We're looking forward to returning to normal life.” But Dr. Sanjeev Pugazhendi with the government's health ministry, said the “new normal” in Seychelles will still include mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing at gatherings, which “I think are here to stay."