Countries that dont have enough money to compete in the global race for coronavaccins can finally start vaccinating some of their care staff. Ghana is the first country in the world to receive a supply of coronavaccines from the COVAX program today.
Covax is an initiative of, among others, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the international organisation Gavi and aims to ensure equal access to vaccines. 92 countries are donated through Covax vaccines. And in many of these countries, this is the only way they can get their hands on vaccines.
600,000 doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine arrived at the airport of the Ghanaian capital, Accra this morning and start vaccinating next Tuesday.
Boxes of vaccines arrive at Accra airport:
Also, the second delivery of corona vaccines goes to West Africa. Friday is expected in Côte dIvoire, where they will also take the first shot shortly after the weekend.
The COVAX organisation has asked the UN Childrens Rights Organisation Unicef to roll out vaccination programmes with local authorities in 92 low-income countries around the world. “We are the largest purchasers of vaccines in the world,” says Sabine de Jong of Unicef Netherlands. “We already distribute two billion vaccines every year against polio and measles.”
With this, Unicef has the experience and network to distribute the coronavaccins. The organisation helps with training caregivers and shaping vaccination education campaigns. De Jong: “The inoculation with the coronavaccin itself takes place in already existing health centres. And where we cant, were deploying mobile teams. They already brought polio and measles vaccines in refrigerated boxes across mountains and suspension bridges for us to reach everyone.”
The fact that the first Covax vaccines are going to two African countries this week, according to De Jong, has to do with the fact that logistics are ready in those countries. Ghana and Côte dIvoire have also indicated that they want help quickly.
The COVAX programme was, in principle, aimed at creating equal access to vaccines worldwide. All participating countries, rich and poor, could obtain larger quantities of vaccines faster and cheaper if collectively purchased through Covax. But in practice rich Western countries chose to buy on their own. They also started hoarding vaccines that make Covax compete against these countries in the run on vaccines.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week that richer countries are in the way of Covax by concluding contracts with pharmaceuticals that undermine Covaxs agreements. “This is not about charity. If we dont end the pandemic everywhere, it doesnt stop anywhere.”
The inequality that should have been avoided with the COVAX initiative is very clear. So far, according to the World Health Organisation, over 210 million vaccinations have been given worldwide. Eighty percent of it was distributed in only ten countries.
In the meantime, Covax remains the only hope for access to the vaccines for many poor countries. The goal of Covax is to vaccinate 3% of the population in the participating countries over the next six months. A percentage that quite a few rich countries have already reached or will soon reach. The COVAX programme aims to deliver 2.3 billion doses by the end of the year, which will allow 20% of the population to be vaccinated.
“ That does not mean that we vaccinate 20% of the population in every country,” explains De Jong van Unicef. “We first vaccinate the caregivers and the most vulnerable in society. If a country has more caregivers, they get more vaccines.”
In any case, it is not enough for so-called group immunity. That could take years to come in non-Western countries.
Half for Africa
46 out of 92 low-income countries that are now receiving free vaccines via Covax are on the African continent. The African Union is also in the process of purchasing vaccines for the Member States and would have secured 670 million, of which 270 million for this year. They too hope to be able to roll out vaccination programmes in the coming weeks.
A number of African countries have already started vaccination outside Covax. South Africa took the first shot last week with the Janssen vaccine and Zimbabwe did so this week with Chinese Sinopharm.