ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghana launched its coronavirus vaccination drive on Tuesday with doses from the global COVAX vaccine-sharing programme, which delivered shipments to other African countries as its vaccine rollout to developing nations accelerates.
The start of vaccinations in Ghana, and in neighbouring Ivory Coast on Monday, along with the expected delivery of millions of vaccines from the COVAX programme this week, will enable more poor countries to start inoculating mostly frontline workers and the most vulnerable, months after wealthier countries began.
COVAX is the programme backed by the World Health Organization and GAVI vaccine alliance to provide vaccines for poor and middle-income countries. It said on Tuesday it aims to deliver 237 million doses of AstraZeneca’s shot to 142 countries by the end of May.
On Tuesday, COVAX delivered 3.92 million doses of the vaccine to Nigeria, 1.7 million doses to Democratic Republic of Congo, 624,000 to Angola and 36,000 to Gambia. Senegal expects 324,000 doses from the scheme to arrive on Wednesday.
“This is a historic and momentous occasion for The Gambia,” Health Minister Ahmadou Lamin Samateh said in a statement.
In Ghana, people lined up outside the regional hospital in the capital, Accra, for a first phase of vaccinations which is prioritising frontline health workers and others at high risk.
“I feel so good about taking the vaccine. It will protect me from contracting the virus from patients,” said Bernice Anaglatey, 42, who works in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Accra’s Ridge Hospital as she queued for her shot.
The West African country aims to vaccinate 20 million people, or over 66% of its population, by the end of 2021, according to President Nana Akufo-Addo.
Drones from U.S.-based startup Zipline delivered some of the vaccines to health facilities, making Ghana the first in the world to use the technology on a national scale to deliver COVID-19 shots, the company said.
Only a handful of other African countries have started inoculations, with doses bought bilaterally or received as donations.
Vaccine shipments through the COVAX scheme are expected to accelerate this week with the delivery of 11 million AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech doses.
Health authorities are also stepping up efforts to fight conspiracy theories around the vaccines. President Akufo-Addo and his wife were inoculated on Monday in an effort to boost public confidence in the vaccines.
“The stories I heard about the vaccine have put fear in me,” said Isaac Armah, a 28-year-old trader in Accra. “I’ll wait for about two months to see the effects of the vaccine on the early recipients, then I’ll make up my mind.”
Coronavirus infections in Ghana have surpassed 84,000 and more than 600 people have died, according to health ministry data.
(Reporting by Christian Akorlie; Additional reporting by Fiston Mahamba in Goma and Pap Saine in Banjul, Writing by Nellie Peyton and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Bate Felix, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Aurora Ellis and Nick Macfie)