By Eleni Papageorgiou,
Ghana is a West African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean in the South, in the Guinea Gulf. It is ranked as the 60th poorest country in the world where the per capita purchasing power (PPP) is $6,956. At the same time Greece, for example, after a long period of economic crisis and an unstable political field has a PPP of $30,252. But this undeveloped and impoverished area on the 24th of February 2021 managed to become the first country outside India to receive the COVID-19 vaccine via the COVAX Facility. During the pandemic Ghana has recorded more than 80,700 cases of coronavirus and 580 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University. These numbers are believed to fall short of the actual incidents because of low levels of testing. That is why the WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have taken action. They now say it was a momentous occasion and “critical in bringing the pandemic to an end”.
First of all, let us examine what COVAX is. Multiple Institutions like the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations assigned COVAX with a project in order to prevent poorer countries from being excluded or being pushed back concerning vaccination against COVID-19. According to this, richer countries must make sure that poorer countries have access to the vaccine as well. 98 wealthy countries must distribute part of the doses they bought to 92 poorer countries throughout the world. The ultimate goal is 2 billion doses to be distributed to all 190 countries within a year.
As of the shipment itself, it consisted of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines and arrived at 7 am GMT Wednesday on an Emirates flight at Kotoka International Airport, in Ghana’s capital Accra. Officials appointed for receiving the consignment were there at the time of the landing. A journalist for the state Broadcasting Corporation claimed “The flight is carrying the vaccines that we so much look forward to receiving. I believe hope has arrived”. The latter embodies the overall feeling of many people desperately waiting for help from abroad. The COVAX scheme has incorporated India as the major producer (The Serum Institute of India) of the first set of vaccines for poorer countries. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, added “Today is a major first step towards realizing our shared vision of vaccine equity, but it’s just the beginning. We still have a lot of work to do with governments and manufacturers to ensure that vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries within the first 100 days of this year”.
Over the past several months, COVAX partners have been supporting governments and partners, as readiness efforts in preparation for this moment, particularly for AMC-eligible participants. What do we mean by preparation? A whole lot of actions that have to be followed in order for the vaccination period of priority groups to start. Syringes and disposal boxes, masks and gloves must be abundant; a vaccination plan must be ready and cold storage equipment must be provided. COVAX has built a diverse portfolio of vaccines suitable for a range of settings and populations, and is on track to meet its goals.
But the problem begins when irresponsible nations in the developed world, who have already started the vaccination process, are buying or ordering more vaccines than needed. Many countries prefer to pre-order huge stocks of vaccines just in case pharmaceutical companies cannot meet the demand and finally deliver only a part of the orders. But that is not fair. A lot of criticism has surfaced, so certain nations are changing their plans. The United Kingdom for example has ordered 400 million vaccines for its 66 million inhabitants and has said that its surplus will be donated to poorer countries around the world.
We must remember that “We will not end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere”, said the Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
It goes without saying that vaccination schemes must include not only immunization against COVID-19 but also large scale programmes for the vaccination of children under the age of 2 years against various other diseases like measles, poliomyelitis, diphtheria and smallpox in underdeveloped countries. Let us all hope that the alertness shown by several countries and manufacturers during the ongoing pandemic will expand and children’s death rate will be diminished and there will come a day when health care is equally distributed around the world and all humanity feels safe again. After all, solidarity has never harmed anybody.
- BBC News, Covax vaccine-sharing scheme delivers first doses to Ghana, Available here
- Ferguson, S., First COVID-19 Vaccines Land in Ghana: A Milestone for COVAX, UNICEF USA, Available here
- World Health Organization, COVID-19 vaccine doses shipped by the COVAX Facility head to Ghana, marking beginning of global rollout, Available here