As the global rollout of COVAX vaccines accelerates, the first Covid-19 vaccination campaigns in Africa using COVAX doses began on Monday in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. These campaigns are the among the first to use doses provided by the COVAX Facility's Gavi COVAX Advanced Market Commitment (AMC).
The AMC is the COVAX Facility's mechanism to provide donor-funded vaccines to lower-income countries, said a press release.
The campaigns in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire follow deliveries to both countries last week with Ghana taking delivery of 600,000 doses on 24 February and Côte d'Ivoire 504,000 doses two days later. Both countries received the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine licensed and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII). The vaccine, branded COVISHIELD, was granted Emergency Use Listing (EUL) by the World Health Organization on 15 February.
President of the Republic of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo said: "Covid-19 has changed the world. It has cost lives, battered health systems, and damaged livelihoods. But, through these challenges, we have seen the best of humanity exemplified through strong multilateral cooperation. Ghana 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. To maximise the public health benefit of the vaccine, the first doses will be prioritized for health and essential workers, and other at-risk groups. This important milestone will allow Ghana to get back to business, and build back our economy even stronger than before."
The deliveries mark the start of what will be the largest, most rapid and complex global rollout of vaccines in history. In total, COVAX aims to deliver at least 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2021, including at least 1.3 billion to the 92 economies eligible for support through the COVAX AMC, the press release added.
Confirmation of first-round allocations, covering the majority of the COVAX Facility participants, will be published 2 March 2021. COVAX doses to date have been delivered by SII to India, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, while Pfizer-BioNTech has delivered doses to the Republic of Korea. More deliveries by these two manufacturers are planned in the coming days, with 11 million doses in total planned to be delivered over the next seven days. In addition, AstraZeneca is set to commence shipments this week.
COVAX, the overarching effort to accelerate development and access to Covid vaccines, is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization (WHO) working in partnership with UNICEF as well as the World Bank, manufacturers and civil society organizations, and others.
"This is a day many of us have been dreaming of and working for more than 12 months," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
"It's 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. 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."
"As vaccination begins in Côte D'Ivoire, less than a year after Covid-19 was characterized as a global pandemic, I am filled with confidence, and I am sure that through COVAX and international solidarity we will be able to reach the most at-risk everywhere. Global equitable access to life-saving vaccines is the surest way to save lives and rebuild economies. I would like to thank all donors and also the leadership of the G7 group of nations. Nowadays vaccine policy is the best economic policy," said José Manuel Barroso, Chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
"The last year has been a dark one for families all over the world, but the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines provided a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel. Today, the COVAX Facility begins to make good on its promise to make sure that light shines for all," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.
"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. Now, these vaccines are quickly reaching people in low and middle-income countries, many of which would have been left behind without the Facility's work. This proves what we can accomplish when we all – the private sector, UN and development agencies, governments, donors, and other partners – work as one."
"This is a historic day in the global fight against Covid-19. Today's vaccinations in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana are among the first to be delivered through COVAX, which will protect many hundreds of millions of those most at risk from Covid-19, wherever they are in the world." said Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI.
"In the coming days and weeks, COVAX will begin to redress the global imbalance in vaccine deployment, but there is still much to do. The spread of new Covid-19 variants means global access to vaccines is more important than ever before, and the global community must remain firmly focused on this goal if we are to bring the pandemic to an end."
"The first COVAX vaccine deliveries in West and Central Africa were a huge first step towards equity and a demonstration of global solidarity," said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Poirier. "A few days after the vaccine doses landed, we are already celebrating the first Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, starting today in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, aimed at protecting the most vulnerable. We are proud that countries in West and Central Africa were ready from the get-go. UNICEF is active on the ground, together with WHO and other partners, to support the roll-out of the vaccination campaigns until everyone is safe."
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. It 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. For months WHO teams in the region and partners have been supporting countries to plan and prepare for the complex challenges of such a massive vaccination campaign. We now look forward to seeing these plans put into action with an effective and efficient vaccine rollout," Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
EU President Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission said: "To overcome coronavirus, vaccines must reach all corners of the planet, as soon as possible. I am delighted that we now have tangible results on the ground. I want to pay tribute to the tireless efforts of our partners, Gavi, CEPI, WHO and UNICEF. Team Europe is a proud supporter of COVAX and will continue to stand by the people of Africa."
Adar Poonawalla, CEO, Serum Institute of India (SII) said: "We are delighted to play a part in vaccinating the world through COVAX. We will continue to work towards providing equitable access to vaccines."
Sai D Prasad, President, Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturer's Network (DCVMN) said: "Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturer's Network has strongly stood with all stakeholders during this unprecedented time of Covid-19 pandemic and has strived hard to develop, manufacture and roll out Covid-19 vaccines in a record time span of 10-12 months as a part of global collaboration and solidarity. We stand together shoulder to shoulder in this endeavour."
Thomas Cueni, Director General, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) said: "Since the beginning of this pandemic, vaccine makers have spared no efforts to speed up development, production, registration, and equitable access to of high-quality vaccines. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are committed founding partners of ACT-Accelerator and COVAX, and we are excited that for the first time in the history of pandemics vaccines are rolled out in a coordinated manner quickly around the world. Another momentous effort, is the scaling up of the vaccine manufacturing from zero to millions in a matter of months. As producing vaccines is a complex process, so with such a scale up, there are inevitably going to be challenges ahead; we will continue working collaboratively to find solutions and join hands in making history."