Kenya and Rwanda on Wednesday received the first shipment of coronavirus vaccines from the COVAX initiative, created to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to coronavirus vaccines.
Some 1.02 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, arrived in Nairobi early Wednesday morning, said a joint statement from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Innovations in Epidemic Preparedness.
Rwanda, meanwhile, received 240,000 doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and 102,960 more doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to arrive later in the day.
Kenya’s Minister of Health, Mutahi Kagwe, expressed enthusiasm and optimism that the vaccines will help curb the spread of the virus that has forced the East African country to partially cripple its economy with devastating consequences for many citizens.
We have been fighting the pandemic with rubber bullets, but what we have acquired today is the equivalent, metaphorically speaking, of bazookas and machine guns, Kagwe said.
The vaccines will be administered first to about 400,000 health workers, with the rest going to others on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic such as teachers and police officers, the minister said.
Many public health workers in the country are unhappy about the lack of personal protective equipment and say the government never paid them promised allowances for the extra work and risk in fighting COVID-19.
Kenya has more than 106,000 confirmed cases, including more than 1,800 deaths.
Rwanda, will begin vaccinating the most vulnerable among its 12 million people on Friday. It aims to immunize 30% of its population by the end of the year, and 60% by the end of 2022, explained Health Minister Daniel Ngamije.
As each person must receive two doses of the drug for full protection, these first vaccines will target 171,480 identified as priority risk groups, including front-line workers, the over-65s and others with previous medical conditions, the ministry said.
According to Kasonde Mwinga, WHO country representative, Rwanda has responded to the pandemic with determination to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.
Rwandan authorities reported 19,111 infections and 265 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak.
The COVAX program has been hampered by limited global vaccine supplies and logistical problems.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the campaign to get the vaccines has been extremely uneven, with most doses administered in a small number of rich countries.