Ghana and its West African neighbour Ivory Coast on Monday became the world’s first states to administer vaccines from COVAX, a global scheme to procure free coronavirus jabs for poorer countries.
Rich countries have surged ahead with inoculating their population, while many poorer countries are still awaiting their first vaccine doses.
President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana became the world’s first recipient of the COVID-19 vaccine from COVAX.
“It is important that I set the example that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it so that everybody in Ghana can feel comfortable about taking this vaccine,” the 76-year old president said before receiving a shot of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in a live broadcast.
First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo also received a shot, one day before the rest of the 600,000 doses are deployed across the country.
Ghana’s food and drug authority last month authorised the Indian-made vaccine and Russia’s Sputnik V, as the government aims to target 20 of its 30 million population by year’s end.
Last Wednesday, Ghana was the first country to receive vaccines from COVAX, led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
Some 145 participating economies are set to receive 337.2 million doses by mid-year – enough to vaccinate a little more than 3 percent of their combined populations.
COVAX has said it hopes to raise the figure to up to 27 percent in lower-income countries by the end of December.
Ghana has recorded more than 84,000 COVID-19 cases and 607 deaths since the start of the pandemic according to Johns Hopkins University. However, the true figure is believed to be higher because of the limited testing.
Schools reopened in January after a 10-month closure, but large social gatherings are banned and land and sea borders have remained closed since March 2020.
Despite the vaccine roll-out, the president said all the current restrictions to curb the spread of the virus were to remain in place.
Ivory Coast also launched it inoculation drive on Monday with doses imported from COVAX.
Patrick Achi, the secretary-general at the presidency, was the first to be vaccinated at a sports complex in the commercial capital Abidjan.
Onlookers cheered as a health worker in a white coat and pink scrubs delivered the injection.
Medical personnel, teachers and security forces members were also being vaccinated in the first phase of the campaign targeting 3 percent of the population.
“The vaccines offer us the hope of returning to normal in the coming months,” Achi said.
Getting the jab was a “patriotic duty,” he added.
Ivory Coast received 504,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday and plans to roll it out to medical workers, members of the security forces and teachers before vaccinating people over 50, those with chronic diseases and travellers.
More than 100 people were lining up early on Monday at a sports complex in the Treichville neighbourhood of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan to receive their first shot.
Ivory Coast has recorded over 32,000 infections and 192 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Outside the Covax initiative, African countries that have launched vaccination drives include Senegal, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt.