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Why the Vaccination Drive in West Africa is the Best News You Will Hear Today

Covax vaccine-sharing scheme delivers first doses to Ghana. Image courtesy: BBC

In the first week of March, the Western African nations of Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire received around half a million doses of AstraZeneca/Oxford shots, which are now branded as Covishield by their Indian manufacturers. As the foremost recipients of the life-changing vaccine through the UN partnered COVAX Initiative, the vaccine is being rolled out prioritizing frontline workers and vulnerable groups with co-morbidities, according to the World Health Organization. The deliveries mark the largest and most rapid vaccine rollout in the history of mankind. Meanwhile, 11 million extra COVAX doses will get delivered in the coming weeks, as part of the worldwide effort aimed at providing 2 billion doses of donor-funded shots to underdeveloped countries.

“Through these challenges, the best of humanity exemplified through strong multilateral cooperation”, said Nana Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana, while also adding that his country “embraces the advent of the first doses of vaccines through the COVAX AMC as a trail to resolving the acute phase of the pandemic”. In a televised address to the nation, he underscored that the shots are safe by Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority and there was no reason to doubt the credibility of the vaccines. The FDA also approved Sputnik V, one of the first vaccines developed by Russia, for emergency use, though the certification process is still ongoing. The emphasis is being given to health and essential workers, and other at-risk groups, with hopes to maximize the public health benefit of the vaccines. He believes this milestone will allow Ghana to build back their economy stronger than before. Meanwhile, Ghanaian scientists are working with their counterparts to develop a vaccine in the continent, and the country is trying to get some local manufacturers the needed license to produce some of the existing vaccines.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, quoted the event as the day many had been dreaming of. He added that it was rewarding to see the fruit of labor and this is only the beginning of what COVAX is set to achieve. The target of the mission is to start vaccination in all countries of the world within the first 100 days of 2021, of which only 40 days are remaining as of now. Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, praised the vaccine rollout as a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel and that the COVAX Facility will make sure the light is available to all. She also said that the groundbreaking global effort has mustered the international fraternity to identify accepted vaccines, raise funds to manufacture or get them, and lay the foundation for the world’s largest vaccination campaign in history. The early rollout of vaccines in the African continent is being viewed by many as a correction of the glaring inequity towards the African community, given that rich nations are just ‘clearing their shelves. African countries are being moved off the sidelines and are back into the vaccination race, leading at the forefront.

COVAX is joint ventured by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the WHO, also in collaboration with UNICEF as well as the World Bank, civil society organizations, and major manufacturers. As of the current date, COVAX shots are being delivered to Ghana, Côte D’Ivoire, and India. The Pfizer-BioNTech has delivered shots to the Republic of Korea. According to spokespersons, more shipments containing the doses are underway.

With reportedly fewer cases and deaths compared to wealthy western nations, the vaccination drive is being expected to gather pace in the following weeks in the African continent.

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