The World Health Organisation’s global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX has delivered its first COVID-19 shots, as the race accelerates to get doses to the world’s poorest people.
A flight carrying 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India has landed in Ghana’s capital Accra, the WHO and UNICEF said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
The delivery comes eight months after the launch of the COVAX initiative, aimed at pooling funds from wealthier countries and non-profits to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and distribute it equitably around the world.
The shots will be used to kick-start a vaccination drive that will prioritise frontline health workers and others at high-risk, according to a plan presented by Ghanaian health officials.
In a joint statement, the country representatives of UNICEF and WHO described the arrival of the COVAX vaccines as a “momentous occasion” critical to bringing the pandemic to an end.
“After a year of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic … the path to recovery for the people of Ghana can finally begin,” said the statement.
“These 600,000 COVAX vaccines are part of an initial tranche of deliveries … which represent part of the first wave of COVID vaccines headed to several low and middle-income countries.”
“Each step on this journey brings us further along the path to recovery for the billions of children and families affected around the world.”
The Ghana shipment marks the beginning of what will be the world’s largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history, according to the statement.
On Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged wealthy nations to share vaccine doses with COVAX, saying the goal of equitable distribution was “in jeopardy.”
“So far 210 million doses of vaccine have been administered globally but half of those are in just two countries,” Mr Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.
“More than 200 countries are yet to administer a single dose.”
Ghana is among 92 low- and middle-income countries that will receive free COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX.
The West African nation of 30 million people has recorded 81,245 cases and 584 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Another 90 countries and eight territories, including Australia, have signed up to pay for vaccines supplied through the scheme.