356 views | Akanimo Sampson | February 25, 2021
Six hundred thousand doses of the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine from the United Nations-partnered COVAX initiative have landed the West African country.
The joint UN-led COVAX initiative aimed to start shipping about 90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa this February, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) early in the month. The immunization rollout will be the continent’s largest ever mass vaccination campaign.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, highlighted that the deployment is a “critical first step” to ensure countries access to vaccines.
“Africa has watched other regions start COVID-19 vaccination campaigns from the side-lines for too long. This planned roll-out is a critical first step to ensuring the continent gets equitable access to vaccines”, Moeti said.
The roll-out of the AstraZeneca/Oxford AZD1222 vaccine is subject to the vaccine being listed for emergency use by WHO which is currently reviewing the vaccine and the outcome is expected soon, according to the agency.
Amid surging demand for COVID-19 vaccines, the final shipments will be based on production capacities of vaccine manufacturers and the readiness of countries, WHO added, noting that recipient countries are required to submit finalised national deployment and vaccination plans to receive vaccines from the COVAX facility.
The initial 90 million doses will support countries inoculate three percent of the African population most in need of protection, including health workers and other vulnerable groups in the first half of 2021.
As production capacity increases and more vaccines become available the aim is to vaccinate at least 20 percent of Africans by providing up to 600 million doses by the end of 2021.
Moeti also said that the announcement allows African countries to fine-tune their planning for COVID-19 immunisation campaigns and called on the countries to finalise their immunisation plans.
“We urge African nations to ramp up readiness and finalise their national vaccine deployment plans. Regulatory processes, cold chain systems and distribution plans need to be in place to ensure vaccines are safely expedited from ports of entry to delivery”, she added.
“We can’t afford to waste a single dose.”
To complement COVAX efforts, the African Union has secured 670 million vaccine doses for the continent which will be distributed in 2021 and 2022 as countries secure adequate financing, according to WHO.
In addition, about 320,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received WHO Emergency Use, have been allocated to four African countries – Cabo Verde, Rwanda, South Africa, and Tunisia – which have the capacity store and distribute doses at minus 70 degrees Celsius, the UN agency said.
The COVAX Facility
The COVAX Global Vaccines Facility is the vaccine pillar of the ACT-Accelerator, an initiative launched last April to speed up development of medicines to treat COVID-19 and make them available to people everywhere.
The global initiative is led by WHO; Gavi the Vaccine Alliance; and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). It works to ensure as many countries as possible cooperate to pool development, procurement and allocation of any COVID-19 vaccines.
However, confirming the news on Wednesday, WHO said that further supplies of the AstraZeneca/Oxford jab will reach Côte d’Ivoire later this week.
These are the first coronavirus shots from the COVAX scheme to be distributed outside India, where the vaccine is being produced under licence.
They were shipped from Mumbai to the Ghanaian capital, Accra, by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as part of the first wave of vaccines headed to several low and middle income countries.
UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, described their arrival as “the historic moment for which we have been planning and working so hard”, as the world ramps up the largest immunisation campaign in history.
“With the first shipment of doses, we can make good on the promise of the COVAX Facility to ensure people from less wealthy countries are not left behind in the race for life-saving vaccines,” she said.
Further supplies will be shipped to other nations as the global rollout gathers pace, when readiness criteria have been met and the doses produced.
Only the beginning
WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, welcomes the development, along with COVAX partners Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
But he insisted that there was still “a lot of work to do” to secure support for WHO’s goal of giving the vaccine to all health workers and older people in the first 100 days of the year.
“We will not end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere,” the WHO chief said in a joint statement.
“Today is a major first step towards realizing our shared vision of vaccine equity, but it’s just the beginning. We still have a lot of work to do with governments and manufacturers to ensure that vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries within the first 100 days of this year.”
Echoing the urgent need for universal vaccine distribution, Dr Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer at CEPI, notes that there were now “multiple safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 developed in record time”.
But the “increased spread” of COVID-19 variants had ushered in a “new and less predictable phase of the pandemic”, Hatchett insisted. “It is crucial that the vaccines we have developed are shared globally, as a matter of the greatest urgency, to reduce the prevalence of disease, slow down viral mutation, and bring the pandemic to an end.”
In an appeal for greater support for the initiative, which Dr Seth Berkley, head of fellow COVAX partner GAVI insisted that the delivery of vaccines to Ghana was a proud moment, but it had to be repeated “to all participating economies” in coming weeks, “to ensure that those most at risk are protected, wherever they live”.
Governments and businesses needed to “recommit” to COVAX, the Gavi chief insisted “and help us defeat this virus as quickly as possible”.
In order for new coronavirus doses to be delivered to COVAX participants, the criteria which need to be fulfilled include confirmation of national regulatory authorisations for the vaccine in question, national vaccination plans and export and import licences.
Decline in deaths
The development comes as WHO reported a drop in COVID-19 deaths for the third consecutive week.
Some 66,000 deaths were reported last week, according to the UN agency’s latest update on the disease, which was issued on Wednesday.
WHO said deaths have fallen in all regions except the Western Pacific, which recorded a six percent increase.
New infections also decreased by 11 percent over the same period in four out of six regions. However, South-East Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean reported small increases of two per cent and seven percent respectively.
Globally, there have been nearly 111 million cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and more than 2.4 million deaths.
The United States, Brazil, France, Russia and India continue to report the highest number of cases.