KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia will extend its free COVID-19 vaccination programme to all foreigners residing in the country, including students, refugees and undocumented migrants, the government said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Foreign workers wait in line to be tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outside a clinic in Kajang, Malaysia October 26, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

The Southeast Asian country is expected to begin its vaccine rollout at the end of this month, aiming to cover at least 80% of its 32 million population within a year.

“A safe environment free from COVID-19 can only be achieved when as many Malaysian residents as possible are immunised,” the government committee on vaccine supply said in a statement.

“During a pandemic, providing vaccinations is a humanitarian step.”

The committee, however, said priority will be given to Malaysians, with the vaccination schedule for foreigners to be announced at a later date.

Separately, science minister Khairy Jamaluddin said foreigners eligible for free vaccinations will include asylum-seekers registered with the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and undocumented migrants.

“(The committee) will be discussing further on how this can be implemented,” he said on Twitter, adding that authorities will bring in state governments, foreign embassies and non-government organisations to assist in vaccine distribution.

Malaysia has secured more than enough vaccines to reach its targets after agreeing supply deals with U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute as well as China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd and CanSino Biologics.

It had also secured two separate vaccine shipments from AstraZeneca PLC, including one arranged under the global COVAX facility.

The first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines is expected to arrive on Feb. 26.

Malaysia has seen a sharp spike in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, after having largely reined in the epidemic for most of last year.

That has pushed total cases past 250,000, including 923 deaths, as of Wednesday.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Martin Petty

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