African countries are launching mass vaccination campaigns against Covid using vaccines provided through a program set up to equitably share doses with the poorest countries.
Côte d’Ivoire is one of the first to benefit from the UN-backed Covax distribution initiative, with injections starting on Monday.
Ghana is also launching its vaccination campaign this week.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo on Monday became the first to receive a coronavirus vaccine under this program.
Mr Akufo-Addo urged people to get vaccinated and not believe conspiracy theories that cast doubt on the program, which will see some 600,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine rolled out across the country on Tuesday.
“It is important that I set an example that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it, so that everyone in Ghana can feel comfortable taking this vaccine,” he said. .
The deployment will initially focus on the most vulnerable – people over the age of 60 or with serious underlying health problems – and essential workers, such as healthcare professionals, teachers, the police. and even some journalists.
But pregnant women and those under 18 are not part of the vaccination campaign. Authorities said they did not have enough data on possible side effects of vaccines on these groups.
A message of assurance
By Thomas Naadi, BBC News, Ghana
Nana Akufo Addo and his wife were vaccinated in a ceremony broadcast live on television to encourage other Ghanaians to get vaccinated.
Some Ghanaians have expressed doubts about the safety of the vaccines. While some believe it is a government ploy to reduce the country’s population by making them sterile, others believe the vaccines could be bogus.
In a televised address to the nation on Sunday, the president stressed that the vaccines had been declared safe by the country’s Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and that there was no reason to doubt their safety. “Taking the vaccines will not alter your DNA, it will not integrate a tracking device into your body, nor will it cause infertility in women or men,” he said.
The Ghanaian FDA has also approved Russian Sputnik V vaccines for emergency use, and the certification process is underway for other vaccines.
The country is also exploring the possibility of obtaining the license from some local manufacturers to produce some of the existing vaccines, while Ghanaian scientists are working with their counterparts on the continent to develop a vaccine.
In Côte d’Ivoire, which has a similar roll-out schedule, people started lining up at vaccination centers early Monday for their first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
Abidjan city teacher David Elo said he was “heartwarming” and “relieved” to receive the blow. “If today everyone gets vaccinated, we will no longer be afraid.”
Nurse Prisca Nguessan told Reuters news agency she hoped the vaccinations would “speed up.” “We invite the population to come and get vaccinated because getting vaccinated is a way to break the chain of transmission.”
The first vaccinations in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana this week come ahead of a further distribution of 11 million doses to some of the initiative’s signatory countries, Covax said in a statement.
Nigeria is due to receive nearly four million doses of the vaccine later this week.
The Covax program hopes to deliver more than two billion doses to people in 190 countries in less than a year. Professor Gavin Yamey, who helped set up the program, said there was a “huge need” to distribute vaccines around the world.
“It was rather depressing to see rich nations just empty the shelves,” he said. “It was absolutely kind of me first, only me a vaccine, and it’s not only incredibly unfair, it’s terrible public health as well.”
Vaccination programs have been slow to get started in Africa, but the continent has reported relatively few cases and deaths compared to many Western countries.
Ghana has reported more than 84,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 600 deaths, while Côte d’Ivoire has confirmed nearly 33,000 cases and 192 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The Covax program is designed for richer countries that buy vaccines to donate – either financially or in doses – so poorer countries have access to them as well.
The initiative is led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and also involves the Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi).
WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week was “just the beginning”.
“This is a day that many of us have dreamed of and worked for for over 12 months,” he said. “We have a long way to go to achieve our vision of starting immunization in all countries within the first 100 days of the year. There are only 40 days left.”