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COVAX COVID-19 Vaccine Deliveries Ramp Up in Africa & SE Asia
What promises to be the largest, fastest and most complex vaccination campaign in history is picking up steam.
The list of countries receiving shipments of COVID-19 vaccine doses through the COVAX Facility continues to grow, as planes filled with lifesaving vaccines touched down in Angola, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Sudan in recent days. More than 20 countries are expected to receive hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses by the end of the week.
The arrival of these initial vaccines — intended for health care and frontline workers and other high-risk individuals — marks the much-anticipated beginning of the end of the pandemic.
The deliveries are part of the COVAX initiative's unprecedented global effort to provide 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including 1.2 billion doses to low- and lower-middle-income countries by the end of 2021. COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), with UNICEF as a key implementing partner, leading on procurement and supply.
Above, UNICEF Supply Officer Mr. Denis Mupenzi, center, inspects the cargo containing 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine that arrived on March 3 at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda. Later that day, Rwanda became the first African country to receive the Pfizer vaccine when a shipment of 102,000 doses arrived, part of the distribution of 1.2 million doses procured from the manufacturer by COVAX.
WHO Kenya Representative Rudi Eggers, above left, and UNICEF Kenya Representative Maniza Zaman meet on the tarmac at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, just after midnight on March 3 to receive the country's first COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX facility. The shipment of 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India will soon be administered to Kenya's frontline workers.
“With the arrival of these vaccines, UNICEF and partners are honoring the promise of the COVAX facility to ensure people from less wealthy countries are not left behind in the global rollout of lifesaving vaccines,” said Zaman. “UNICEF is proud to be part of a partnership supporting the Government of Kenya in this vital work.”
Workers rush to load the precious cargo onto trucks after the arrival of a shipment of 3.94 million vaccine doses at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, Nigeria, on March 2. The delivery is the first batch of many the COVAX Facility plans to deliver to the country over the coming months — 16 million doses overall.
“After a year of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, today we celebrate the efforts being made in getting the vaccine to Nigeria," said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative. "With more than 150,000 Nigerians infected with the virus and over 1,800 lives lost, the path to recovery for the people of Nigeria can finally begin.”
Democratic Republic of the Congo
In Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, staff at the vaccine storage warehouse in Kinkole commune unpack COVID-19 vaccines for storage in the cold room. More than 1.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived by cargo plane on March 2.
UNICEF began laying the groundwork for safe COVID-19 vaccine delivery and storage in 2020, mapping out storage facilities and infrastructure needs across the developing world, and installing new equipment. Based on the analysis of epidemiological data and WHO guidelines, the DRC plan calls for the vaccination of 20 percent of the population, including health care workers, who represent 1 percent of the population; people over age 55 (6 percent) and those with comorbidities such as chronic kidney disease, hypertension or diabetes (13 percent).
Sudan is the first country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to receive COVID-19 vaccines following the arrival of over 800,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at Khartoum International Airport on March 3. "It has been a very difficult time for everyone," said UNICEF Sudan Supply and Logistics Officer Amna Osman, above. "This is a huge step forward in curbing the pandemic."
Senegal and The Gambia
Senegal received a first batch of 324,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine licensed by the Serum Institute of India via the COVAX initiative on March 3. An additional 1 million doses are scheduled for delivery in the second quarter of 2021, followed by other COVID-19 vaccine deliveries throughout 2021.
The first tranche of 36,000 AstraZeneca vaccines arrived at Banjul International Airport in The Gambia on March 3. “This is a historic and momentous occasion for The Gambia,” said Dr. Ahmadou Lamin Samateh, the Minister of Health of The Gambia. “Now that both the syringes and vaccines are here, we are expediting our plans to ensure that vaccination of health care workers, those with underlying medical conditions and elderly people of 65 years and above kicks off soon. I must reiterate that the Government of The Gambia only accepts vaccines that are safe and effective, and these vaccines have passed the test.”
Above, a shipment of 324,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrives in Cambodia on March 2, one of the first countries in the Western Pacific region to receive vaccines through the COVAX Facility. The plan is for Cambodia to receive a total of 1.1 million doses by the end of May and an estimated 7 million doses by the end of the year — enough to cover 20 percent of the population.
Dr. Luzola Messo, above right, a senior frontline health professional, becomes the second person in Angola to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The shipment of 624,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India that arrived in Luanda, Angola on March 2 is estimated to cover 10 percent of the country’s needs for its first phase of immunizations, prioritizing health professionals and those with pre-existing conditions. Vaccination campaigns are already underway in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire; initial vaccine shipments arrived there in late February.
UNICEF Communication Specialist Steve Nzaramba, above, celebrates the arrival of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda on March 3.
"What has happened in the span of less than a year is nothing short of astounding," UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said during a briefing on March 2. "There are no miracles in public health, but if there were, this would be one ... As vaccinations roll out, this will help to bring the pandemic under control so that we can start the work to build a better, safer, and healthier future for everyone."
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Top photo: On March 3, Rwanda became the first African country to receive the Pfizer COVIID-19 vaccine through the COVAX Facility. From the airport, 102,000 Pfizer BioNTech mRNA vaccine doses were loaded onto refrigerated trucks and transported to the Central Vaccines Storage facility in Masoro, Kigali. © UNICEF/UN0425128/Kanobana