As the first recipients of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine doses through the UN-partnered COVAX initiative, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana began their vaccine rollouts on Monday, prioritizing frontline workers and vulnerable groups, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Last week, the West African nations each received more than half a million doses of AstraZeneca/Oxford shots, branded as COVISHIELD by their Indian manufacturer, which was cleared for Emergency Use Listing (EUL) by the UN health agency on February 15.
The deliveries signify the launch of the largest, most rapid and complex global vaccine rollout in history, said WHO.
Meanwhile, 11 million more COVAX doses are being delivered over the next week, as part of the global effort aiming to provide at least two billion doses of donor-funded coronavirus shots to lower income countries by the end of this year.
‘The best of humanity’
“Through these challenges, we have seen the best of humanity exemplified through strong multilateral cooperation”, said Nana Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana, adding that his country “welcomes the arrival of the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX AMC as a pathway to ending the acute phase of the pandemic.”
Mr. Akufo-Addo said the first doses will target health and essential workers, and other at-risk groups, hoping to maximise the public health benefit of the vaccine.
“This important milestone will allow Ghana to get back to business, and build back our economy even stronger than before”, he said.
“As vaccination begins in Côte D’Ivoire… I am filled with confidence… that through COVAX and international solidarity we will be able to reach the most at-risk everywhere”, said José Manuel Barroso, Chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a key partner in the initiative.
‘A hopeful light’
“This is a day many of us have been dreaming of”, “, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, adding that it was “gratifying to see the fruit of that labour. But success is still to come. This is only the beginning of what COVAX was set up to achieve.”
He further underscored that “we have a lot left to do to realize our vision to start vaccination in all countries within the first 100 days of the year. There are just 40 days left.”
Calling the vaccine rollout “a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel, Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, said that “the COVAX Facility begins to make good on its promise to make sure that light shines for all.”
Laying the groundwork
She noted that “this unprecedented global effort has rallied the international community behind identifying acceptable vaccines, raising funds to procure them, and laying the groundwork for the world’s largest immunization campaign in history.”
According to the WHO, the confirmation of first-round allocations, covering the majority of the COVAX facility participants, will be published on Tuesday.
To date, COVAX shots have been delivered to India, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, while Pfizer-BioNTech has delivered doses to the Republic of Korea. More shipments by these two manufacturers are underway.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the WHO, working in partnership with UNICEF as well as the World Bank, manufacturers and civil society organizations, and others.
A huge step forward
“The start of Africa’s biggest immunization drive in history through the COVAX facility marks a step forward in the continent’s fight against COVID-19”, said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
She added that the vaccine campaign is “a welcome shift towards bringing African countries off the sidelines and back into the vaccination race, correcting the glaring inequity which has been an unfortunate hallmark of the global vaccine rollout to date.”