Ghana has become the first country to receive doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccines through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Assess Facility, COVAX.
COVAX, a World Health Organization-backed programme, was set-up to divide about two billion doses of vaccines across 92 low-and middle-income countries.
The facility promised access to vaccines for up to 20 per cent of participating countries’ population with an initial supply beginning in the first quarter of the year to immunise three per cent of their populations.
“On 23 February, COVAX shipped 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/ Oxford vaccine, from the Serum Institute of India (SII) from Pune, India to Accra, Ghana, arriving on the morning of 24 February,” WHOsaid in a statement published on its website on Wednesday.
“The arrival in Accra is the first batch shipped and delivered in Africa by the COVAX Facility as part of an unprecedented effort to deliver at least 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021.”
The vaccine delivery comes after a year the COVID-19 virus was first reported in the African region. Ghana has recorded more than 81,000 infections and over 500 lives lost, data from worldometersshows.
The WHO said the delivery is part of a first wave of arrivals that will continue in the coming days and weeks as other African countries are expected to start receiving the COVID-19 vaccines.
Along with the initial shipment to Accra, more deliveries are expected to arrive in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, this week, the WHO said.
The WHO statement thus suggests Nigeria may not receive, this week, its expected four million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines through COVAX. Nigerian officials had said the country expects the four million doses before the end of February.
On Wednesday, Nigeria’s health minister admitted that the country may have to wait till March to receive its first doses of the vaccines.
“Now, the COVAX will start delivering to African countries before the end of February, that’s what they told us. But they didn’t tell us which country is first or which is second, which is third,” health minister Osagie Ehanire said at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting on Wednesday.
Mr Ehanire said COVID-19 vaccines will not arrive in all African countries at the same time as that can only be determined by COVAX.
“We hope that before the end of this month it will be our turn or latest by the beginning of next month.”
The international agency described the vaccines shipment as a historic moment.
“This is a historic step towards our goal to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally, in what will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history,” it said; a fact reiterated in a joint statement by WHO Representative to Ghana, Francis Kasolo, and UNICEF’s representative in Ghana, Anne-Claire Dufay.
WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus noted that the pandemic will not end anywhere unless it ends everywhere.
“Today is a major first step towards realizing our shared vision of vaccine equity, but it’s just the beginning,” he said.
The Executive Director of the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, said the next phase in the fight against this disease can begin with the ramping up of the largest immunisation campaign in history.