Medical personnel in Damascus, Syria, March 19, 2020 (Omar Sanadiki/Reuters)

The Assad regime has distributed the first Coronavirus vaccines in its areas of Syria.

Citing “reliable sources”, Al Jazeera English said the initial vaccinations were given last week to front-line health workers in several main hospitals.

The site said the regime had received 5,000 doses from a “friendly” country.

The country was not named. However, reports indicate that a supply of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, worth $1 million, came from Israel.

The Sputnik V doses were part of a deal in which the Assad regime returned an Israeli woman in a prisoner exchange. She was seized after she crossed into Syria, reportedly to visit her boyfriend.

The Health Ministry has officially reported 16,676 cases and 1,120 deaths. Medics, activists, and residents have said from the start of the outbreak in February 2020 that the regime is minimizing the fatalities and infections.

See also The Cemetery Pointing to Syria’s Real Coronavirus Toll

The international program COVAX is planning to vaccinate 20% of the Syrian population, including in opposition-held northwest Syria and in the Kurdish-controlled northeast, by the end of 2021.

COVAX — led by UNICEF, the vaccine alliance Gavi, and the World Health Organization — said it will distribute Indian-manufactured supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The doses are expected to arrive in Syria in about four weeks.

Health and humanitarian workers and activists expect that the Assad regime, which has blocked food and medical aid to opposition territory throughout Syria’s 10-year conflict, will not provide any doses outside its areas.

Bashar al-Assad’s wife Asma heads up regime organizations receiving humanitarian assistance. Last week the London Metropolitan Police opened an inquiry into her over support of terrorism and war crimes.