ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia has secured nine million doses of COVID-19 vaccines up until April and hopes to inoculate at least a fifth of its 110 million people by the end of the year, the health minister said on Tuesday.
“For now up to April we have been allocated close to nine million doses,” Lia Tadesse said.
“Within this year we want to make sure we get at least 20% of the population,” she told Reuters.
Ethiopia was open to possible donations of vaccines, Lia added, and said the country was not doing any procurement of doses independently but only through the COVAX facility.
COVAX is co-led by the GAVI alliance which secures vaccines for poor countries, the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the U.N. Children’s Fund.
African countries are trying to obtain COVID-19 vaccine supplies for their 1.3 billion people even as rich nations elsewhere in the world race ahead with mass immunisation campaigns. Only a handful of nations on the continent have begun administering vaccines.
On Tuesday, Lia did not specify which vaccines Ethiopia will be receiving through COVAX.
“We are not getting any specific vaccine we are getting them based on the availability of the COVAX facility,” she told Reuters.
The health ministry said on Tuesday the country will need 13 billion Ethiopian birr ($328 million) for vaccines and related expenses, the state-run Ethiopian News Agency said, which will be covered by the government and international donations.
More than 142,000 Ethiopians have tested positive for COVID-19 with more than 2,100 dying from the disease, according to WHO data.
Earlier this month, COVAX said it had allocated at least 330 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for poorer countries and will aim to deliver these and many millions more in the first half of 2021.
This includes 240 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India, an additional 96 million doses of the same shot made by AstraZeneca, plus 1.2 million doses of Pfizer -BioNTech’S COVID-19 vaccine.
Lai told Reuters that Ethiopia was waiting for more information over concerns that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine may not be as effective in significantly reducing the risk of mild or moderate COVID-19 from the 501Y.V2 variant.
“There is a concern that the AstraZeneca may not work. It is not declared that it doesn’t work,” she said. “The information we have is that it’s under investigation by the relevant authorities within the COVAX facility, the research institutions and WHO, so we will wait for that.”
($1 = 39.58 birr)
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; writing by Omar Mohammed, Editing by Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan)