Ghana Kicks Off COVID Global Vaccine Campaign; ‘Regrettable’ That COVAX Rollout Is 3 Months Later Than In Rich Countries
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo gets vaccinated against COVID-19 with the first vaccine in the world to be distributed by the WHO co-sponsored global COVAX facility.

Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have become the first countries in the world to start vaccinating their health workers against COVID-19 with a supply of doses from the WHO co-sponsored global COVAX facility. But it is “regrettable” that this milestone has come almost three months after vaccine campaigns already began in rich countries, World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.

“And it is regrettable that some countries continue to prioritise vaccinating younger, healthier adults at lower risk of disease in their own populations, ahead of health workers and older people elsewhere,” Tedros told the WHO bi-weekly media briefing.

However, Tedros told the briefing that, by the end of May, 237 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be allocated to 142 countries participating in the global COVAX facility.

Samira Bawumia, wife of the Ghanaian vice president, Mohammed Bawumia, enters her biodata into the Ghana vaccine data base just before she and her husband are vaccinated against COVID 19 in the kickoff to the Ghanaian campaign on Monday, 1 March.

Eleven million more doses will be dispatched to 15 countries this week, 14 in Africa, according to the WHO. Nigeria reported last week that it is expecting to get 4 million COVAX vaccines this week.

The WHO has been at pains to stress that, if the virus is to be eliminated, there needs to be a uniform global vaccination campaign that prioritises health workers and the elderly throughout the world.

But COVAX, the facility set up to acquire and distribute vaccines equitably, has been undermined by bilateral deals between pharmaceutical companies and wealthier countries intent on vaccinating all their citizens first. This has resulted in a worldwide shortage of doses and a situation whether 130 countries have not yet started to vaccinate citizens.

“The goal of COVAX was to bring an end to the acute phase of the pandemic by the end of 2021,” said WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan. 

WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan

“We cannot completely eradicate the virus by the end of the year but we can reduce hospitalizations, deaths and severe illness. But we can only do that if people at risk around the world get the vaccine. And at this point in time, they’re not. 

COVAX aims to vaccinate 20% of the world’s population by the end of the year – those who are most at risk of severe illness and death. 

“Then we can scale up as production increases and expand the vaccination campaigns to cover healthier younger adults and really start bringing down transmission,” explained Swaminathan. “But our goal really should be to protect people’s lives and do it as quickly as possible by sharing the vaccines that we have today.”

Swaminathan, who described the COVAX launch as “the start of the largest vaccine campaign the world has ever seen”, added that early data from countries who had started vaccinations showed a “very encouraging” impact on hospitalisation and deaths.

“The safety profile is also encouraging, as about 250 million doses have been given worldwide and so far there have been no major safety signals,” she added.

Mariângela Simão, WHO Assistant Director-General for Drug Access, said the order in which countries were getting COVAX doses was based on “preparedness”, as each country had to accept the vaccine liability indemnification and their medicine regulatory authorities had to authorise the vaccine for use.

Bruce Alyward, who represents the WHO at COVAX, added that “just getting so much vaccine labelled, packaged, booking shipping space and getting them shipped” was a “massive logistical operation that UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organisation are managing right now”. 

Cases Increase, Raising Threat of New Variants

Tedros reported that, for the first time in seven weeks, COVID-19 cases had increased in four WHO regions, the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the eastern the Mediterranean, apparently because of a “relaxation of public health measures”.

“This virus will rebound if we let it,” said Maria van Kerkhoven, WHO’s Technical Lead on COVID-19. “We’ve all been in a position previously, where we’ve gotten transmission down to very low numbers. We cannot allow it to take off again, especially as we have vaccines rolling out, and especially as more vaccines are coming online and as COVAX is starting to distribute the vaccine around the world.”

Van Kerkhove stressed that people must continue to “limit your contacts with others”, reduce social mixing with other families as schools open up, continue to keep a distance from others and wear masks.

Kate O’Brien, WHO’s director of immunisations, said that “anywhere where the virus is transmitting, and transmits in ever-increasing numbers, is going to increase the chance that there are changes to the virus that would also put the vaccines at threat. 

“So this is really really important that, as vaccines are rolling out, people continue to pay attention and be as vigilant as possible to ensure that transmission is as low to give the vaccines their best opportunity for impact.”


Image Credits: Samuel Neequaye , Samuel Neequaye .

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