Ghana receives world’s first doses of free COVAX vaccines

ACCRA (AFP) – Ghana received yesterday the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX, a global scheme to procure and distribute inoculations for free, as the world races to contain the pandemic.

COVAX, launched last April to help ensure a fairer distribution of coronavirus vaccines between rich and poor nations, said it would deliver two billion doses to its members by the end of the year.

“We are pleased that Ghana has become the first country to receive the COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX facility,” the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which organised the shipment from Mumbai, said in a joint statement with the World Health Organization (WHO) – both backers of COVAX.

It said the 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine licensed by the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India, are part of an initial tranche of deliveries “headed to several low and middle-income countries”.

The Emirates flight carrying the vaccines touched down at Accra’s Kotoka International Airport shortly after 0740GMT, in images broadcast on television.

Employees pack COVID-19 vaccines at the dispatch department in Pune, India. PHOTO: AFP

COVAX had said it aimed to deliver 2,412,000 doses of the vaccine to Ghana.

The country’s food and drug authority has authorised the use of the vaccines made in India as well as the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia, according to local media.

The West African nation has recorded 80,759 COVID-19 cases and 582 deaths since the start of the pandemic. These figures are believed to fall short of the real toll as the number of tests is low.

Health workers and other frontline staff are meant to be among the first to receive doses. “In the days ahead, frontline workers will begin to receive vaccines,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.

“The next phase in the fight against this disease can begin – the ramping up of the largest immunisation campaign in history.”

COVAX, led by Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), had anticipated a first round of deliveries to take place in March with some early shipments occurring in late February.