Ghana’s President to Get First SARS-CoV2 Vaccination – MSF Wants J&J For LMICs

Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo, will be publicly vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca SARS-CoV2 vaccine on 2 March, signifying the start of the West African country’s vaccine rollout.

On Wednesday, Ghana became the first country in the world to receive vaccines via the global vaccine access platform, COVAX, according to Health Policy WatchThe Ivory Coast is expected to receive its COVAX vaccine delivery on Friday.

According to the COVAX Interim Distribution Forecast, Ghana – with a population of 31 million – will get a total of 2,412,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. 

Ghana is the10th most affected country in Africa with over 81,000 confirmed cases and 584 deaths as at Thursday, a case fatality ratio of about 0.7% – far lower than the continent’s average of 2.7%.

Ghana has been prepared since early December 

On Thursday, Dr Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, Ghana’s Director of Public Health, suggested that his country’s level of preparedness could be a major reason why it was able to get the vaccine ahead of several other countries.

Ghana submitted its COVAX application on 4 December, 13 days ahead of the deadline, with support from the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), said Bekoe. 

The Ghana Health Service and partners also worked with the justice ministry to sort out the controversial indemnity request by the pharmaceutical companies as a pre-qualifying condition for countries to access the vaccines.

Dr Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, Director of Public Health, Ghana Health Service

Every country receiving the COVAX vaccines is required to indemnify manufacturers and those that would administer the vaccine against liabilities arising out from the vaccine, as it has been  approved for emergency use and its safety profile is not yet fully known.

This is a global requirement and the United Kingdom passed a similar law recently.

Ghana’s plan for COVID-19 and the vaccine doses

Bekoe added that multi sectoral representation on Ghana’s COVID-19 working group had helped to develop its national plan on the pandemic.

Ghana aims to vaccinate 20 million Ghanaians. To achieve this, health officials will be deploying segmentation by population and by geography approaches.

“We looked at where are hotspots and which people are at most risk of contracting COVID in Ghana,” Bekoe said. 

For the first 600,000 doses received this week, the focus is on high-burden regions of Greater Accra, and Ashanti region. Bekoe said these are the key areas that will receive the vaccine. 

Regarding population segmentation, the government will be prioritising individuals above 60 years of age, and those that are needed to keep the government running.

“The executive, judiciary, and the parliament are also able to receive a portion of the 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Then we are looking at the front line of security. So these are the persons that will form the first line—the first group of persons to receive doses of the vaccines,” he added.

Beyond allocating doses of the vaccine, he said the country admits that it has some challenges regarding vaccine hesitancy and as such, it has included communication plans in its COVID-19 agenda.

“Ghana also has a logistics and waste management committee, we have data, safety and a number of other committees that are embedded in the national development plan for COVID-19,” he added.

Emerging as the first country to get the COVID-19 vaccine through COVAX suggests that Ghana is very much reliant on the dose. Bekoe added that the country expects to receive subsequent doses but is also looking elsewhere to get sufficient doses that will enable it to reach the national goal. 

“We are very much reliant on the COVID facility and we’re also looking at other bilateral and multilateral facilities, to ensure that 20 million Ghanaians get vaccinated,” he said.

Johnson and Johnson vaccine in the mix

As Ghana was receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines delivered by the Serum Institute in India, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) affirmed the efficacy of Johnson & Johnson’s single dose COVID-19 vaccine. 

According to the FDA, the vaccine is also efficacious against the dominant variant in South Africa. The vaccine which is already listed on the Africa CDC-supported platform for African countries to procure doses of various vaccines for their citizens.

Earlier in the day, Africa CDC director Dr John Nkengasong welcomed the Johnson & Johnson decision, but told a media briefing that the vaccine alone would not mark the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Africa CDC Director Dr John Nkengasong

“By using a combination of vaccines early on, we can begin to achieve our goals,” Nkengasong told Health Policy Watch “The vaccine landscape will continue to improve. We now have a menu of vaccines coming months as clinical trials are completed. The menu of vaccines will improve and countries will have a choice or choices of which vaccines to use for their vaccination programme.” 

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called on Johnson & Johnson to send its first shipments to COVAX for low- and middle-income countries, rather than high-income countries, should it get FDA approval at its meeting on Friday.

MSF said the vaccine could be an important tool in low-resource settings as, unlike the other COVID-19 vaccines being used today, it requires only one dose and can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures. 

Preliminary data from a phase 3 trial testing the vaccine also suggests that the vaccine is effective against the 501Y.V2 COVID-19 variant, first identified in South Africa.

“J&J should supply low- and middle-income countries and immediately fulfil its pledge to the COVAX Facility,” said Dana Gill, US Policy Advisor, MSF Access Campaign.

“It is simply unfair that most of J&J’s vaccine doses are pledged to wealthy countries with already significant stockpiles of the other approved vaccines, where immunisations have been underway for nearly three months, while low- and middle-income countries where barely any vaccination has taken place are left at the back of the queue.” 


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