ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast received a shipment of COVID-19 doses from the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility on Friday, becoming the second country to benefit from a programme meant to ensure fairer distribution amid a global scramble.
A plane carrying 504,000 doses touched down in the commercial capital Abidjan, paving the way for the West African nation to launch a vaccination campaign next week.
By the end of this year, COVAX plans to deliver nearly 2 billion doses to over 90 low- and middle-income countries, hoping to level a playing field that has seen wealthier nations vaccinate millions while comparatively few have received shots in poorer parts of the world.
“This fight against the pandemic must be done in a democratic manner,” said Ivorian Health Minister Eugene Aka Aouele as he welcomed the arrival of the shipment.
“The democratisation of the fight enables our countries to get the right to the vaccines in the same way as the big nations,” he said.
The first batch from COVAX was delivered to neighbouring Ghana on Wednesday.
The plan should provide coverage for up to 20% of countries’ populations. But it will not be enough to reach herd immunity and effectively contain the virus, forcing African countries to also look to bilateral agreements, donations and an African Union procurement plan.
And while many countries will receive the COVAX shots for free, they have to find financing for distribution and community outreach.
“You want to make sure that the right regulatory approval, the right cold storage is there and everything else, otherwise you risk having things not work,” said Seth Berkley, chief executive of the GAVI vaccines alliance, which leads COVAX with the World Health Organization and other partners.
Africa’s reported COVID-19 death toll surpassed 100,000 last week, much less than other continents but rising fast as a second wave of infections overwhelms under-equipped hospitals.
Ivory Coast, population 25 million, has recorded around 35,650 coronavirus cases and 188 deaths.
In Abidjan, some residents were sceptical about the vaccination drive.
“It’s the rich and their families who will get vaccinated,” said 40-year-old vegetable-seller Seydou Kamagate, as customers at his stall nodded in agreement. “I don’t think my family and I will ever get a vaccine.”
(Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Aaron Ross, Karishma Singh and Giles Elgood)