Thabiso Scotch Mufambi
Harare – The COVAX facility that aims to provide two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s least developed countries finally rolled out this week.
However, countries will not immediately get as many vaccines as they anticipated because of a global supply shortage of the drugs.
Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire became the first countries in the world to administer the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccines procured under COXAV, after taking delivery of initial batches of 600,000 and 500,000 doses respectively.
The World Health Organisation hit out at wealthy countries for vaccine hoarding, which it said was partly to blame to for the hiccups in the smooth rollout of COVAX.
“Currently, some high-income countries are entering into contracts with vaccine manufacturers that undermine the deals that COVAX has in place and reduce the number of doses COVAX can buy. Even if we have the funds we can only deliver vaccines to poorer countries if high-income countries co-operate in respecting the deals COVAX has done and the new deals it is doing. This is not a matter of charity, it is a matter of epidemiology, unless we end the pandemic everywhere we will not end it anywhere,” WHO chief Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said.
COVAX was set up by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO to accelerate development of COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee fair and equitable access to the by all nations.
Each country that is signatory to the facility receives doses in proportion to its population, as COVAX aims to secure vaccines for 20 percent of the population of participating nations by the end of 2021.
In Southern Africa, the Seychelles, Zimbabwe and South Africa were quick out of the blocks and were the first countries in the region to rollout national vaccination programmes independent of COVAX. South Africa has been using the US-made Johnson & Johnson vaccine while Zimbabwe and the Seychelles began their inoculation programmes using China’s Sinopharm vaccine.
Other Southern African countries are at various stages of rollout, with Angola, Botswana, Malawi and Namibia at advanced stages.
A revised first round allocation roster released Tuesday shows COVAX supplies in the initial phase will run from February to May.
Under the new schedule, Angola will now get 2.1 million doses (down from an initial 2.5 million), Botswana will now receive an initial 108,00 doses (down from 117,600), the DRC has been allocated 5.9 million doses (down from 6.9 million), while Eswatini is still in line to get its initial allotment of 108,000 jabs.
Gavi CEO Mr Seth Berkley explained, “The reason some of the numbers have changed is because of the complexity of not only getting pre-qualification but approvals and shippings so some of the timelines have slipped. (However) The same number of doses will ultimately be made available.”
Lesotho will now get 132,000 doses (down from 156,000), Malawi gets 1.2 million (down from 1.4 million), and Mozambique is in line for 2.06 million jabs (down from of 2.4 million).
COVAX has now allotted Namibia 108,000 (doses from 127,000), Zambia gets 1.2 million (down from 1.4 million), and Zimbabwe is now in line to receive 984,000 (down from 1,152 million).
“Following from the publication of an interim distribution forecast (in early February), and based on current knowledge of supply availability, this first round of allocations provides information on provision of doses of the AstraZeneca(AZ)/Oxford vaccine to COVAX Facility participants, through May 2021.
“This first round allocation outlines delivery of 237 million doses of the AZ/Oxford vaccine – manufactured by AstraZeneca (AZ) & licensed and manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SII/AZ) – to 142 Facility participants,” COVAX added.
It said timelines for the supply of the doses would be split into Feb-March and April-May.
“These timelines are dependent on a variety of factors including national regulatory requirements, availability of supply, and fulfilment of other criteria such as validated national deployment and vaccination plans from participants, indemnification and liability agreements, and export and import authorisations.”
‘A milestone for Africa’
Gaborone – The Africa Regional Director for the World Health Organisation, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, has hailed the arrival of vaccines provided by the COVAX initiative to fight COVID-19 in Angola and Lesotho, describing it as a breakthrough and an important step towards fairer access to the inoculants in Africa.
“With this shipment, the first Portuguese-speaking country in Africa accesses this essential tool in the fight against the virus. Each new vaccine delivery marks a breakthrough in the fight against this pandemic that has held our lives hostage for too long,” Dr Moeti said.
She added that “WHO teams in the region and partners have been supporting countries in planning and preparing for the complex challenges of such a massive vaccination campaign. We now hope to see these plans be put in place with an effective and efficient release of the vaccine”.
Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccination Alliance, was quoted saying “COVAX’s mission is to help end the acute phase of the pandemic as soon as possible”.
WHO Representative in Angola Dr Djamila Cabral said “the delivery of vaccines to Angola represents the manifestation of international solidarity and a stronger hope to save lives, and to help economies and livelihoods recover more quickly”.
“The start of the vaccination campaign offers us a light at the end of the tunnel for the protection of populations and also, an appeal to continue to work together to strengthen prevention measures against COVID-19, in particular compliance with biosafety standards, screening, and treatment, as well as improving access to health services and quality.”
Lesotho received 36,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine via COVAX, according to UNICEF.
“This is a momentous occasion, COVID-19 has taken a toll on countries around the world and Lesotho is no exception. We know this is the first step,” said Dr Richard Banda, WHO representative in Lesotho.
Mr Mohamed Fall, the UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, stated that: “This is such a momentous occasion for the region. Of course, this is an initial tranche of COVAX vaccines, with more to follow. Over recent months, UNICEF has been preparing for this moment by working closely with all partners to make sure that the necessary logistical and planning arrangements are in place. UNICEF stands ready to fully support the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines as the drive against this deadly virus shifts into a higher gear.”