East African region has received the first batches of doses of Covid 19 vaccines except Tanzania, Zanzibar and Burundi, which countries from the start had no clear strategy to deal with the pandemic.
March 2, 2021 the Democratic Republic of Congo received a batch of 1.7 million doses of vaccines on at N’djili international airport.
Rwanda received its first batch of 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine that arrived in Kigali on Wednesday morning aboard a Qatar Airways flight, becoming the second country in East Africa after Kenya to get the free jabs. The second shipment of 102,960 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived later in the evening.
Rwanda has started distributing hundreds of Covid-19 vaccine packages to district hospitals as part of plan to expedite a 60% vaccination program which will go through next year.
The vaccination program is estimated to reach seven million Rwandans through 50 district and referral hospitals and 508 health centres across the country. So far most of the district hospitals received 5,000 and above doses.
For example, Nyaruguru received 5,382, Ngororero; Nyamagabe, Ngoma, Gatsibo, Gisagara, Huye and Burera among other 30 districts all got 5,500 doses.
The Rwanda government will spend Rwf50billion on top of the support from key donor countries.
A consignment of some 1,020,000 vaccines arrived in Kenya on Tuesday night, a few minutes before midnight. Healthcare workers in 47 counties are among those who will get the jab first. Frontline workers, including security personnel and teachers, are also on the priority list.
The country’s strategy is a comprehensive one that goes up to June 2023, by which time it expects to have received about 49 million doses, covering 30% of the population.
Kenya is set to receive 24 million doses through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access facility – COVAX.
On Friday, Uganda received 864,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, shipped via the COVAX facility—the world’s facility for universal access to Covid-19 vaccines.
Uganda targets to vaccinate 49.6 per cent of the population, which is about 21,936,011, in a phased manner. Each phase is planned to cover 20 per cent of the population – approximately 4.38 million people.
The COVAX facility has allocated 3,552,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Uganda for the period of January – June 2021. The remaining 2,688,000 doses are expected by June 2021.
Just like other countries in East Africa, Uganda will start vaccination with frontline workers and vulnerable groups.
The first phase of the free vaccination will target health workers in public and private health facilities who by the nature of their work are at higher risk of contracting the disease compared to other categories of people.
Other target groups in order of priority are security personnel; teachers; humanitarian front-line workers, people above 50 years with underlying conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart, kidney, or liver disease; people aged 18-50 with the same underlying conditions; and other emerging high risk and priority essential groups as more vaccine doses arrive in the country.
To complement government efforts Uganda has given green-light to private companies that intend to trade in the vaccines to supply willing customers.
Ugandan authorities say they will allow private companies to import and sell vaccines after government has vaccinated a big percentage of the vulnerable population. Government has also cleared corporate bodies to procure the approved vaccines for their staff in a “coordinated manner.”
Kenya is could also invite the private sector to fill the void in order for everyone to be vaccinated sooner than later.
But it will be a while before private companies can import enough vaccines independent of the government. This is because the global supply is still limited. This means that it’s difficult to find enough uncommitted doses to buy, for instance, outside the COVAX facility. This may change as more vaccines are approved and manufacturing bottlenecks are resolved.
Involving private healthcare providers in national vaccination programs is not unusual though.
South Sudan also expects 864,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. Doctor John Rumunu, director-general for preventive health services at the national health ministry said the vaccine will first be administered to the country’s most vulnerable populations.
In Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli’s government is under pressure from the Opposition to procure vaccines for his people there.
Tanzania has had a unique approach to controlling Covid-19. Only a few months into the pandemic last year, President Magufuli, declared Tanzania Covid-free following three days of national prayers.
He refused to impose a lockdown, re-opened schools, allowed large sporting events, continued religious gatherings, stopped testing and stopped public communications campaigns about the virus. The country also stopped reporting cases and deaths.
As a result the country’s Vice President and other VIPs have died of coronavirus. 77-year old Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, the first vice president of Tanzania’s semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, died last month after falling ill with the coronavirus. The president’s chief secretary also died in recent days, though the cause was not revealed.
In addition, more than 25 priests, 60 sisters and two elders of the laity have died within two months of various causes including respiratory challenges.
If the Tanzanian government refuses to import the vaccines then it is only possible that the burden could shift to the private sector. But even then should government refuse to register the vaccine for use in the country, it will not be accessible to anyone.
The country could, however, register the vaccine but refuse to import it. This would allow the private sector to import some, but it won’t be enough. COVID-19 vaccination programmes of any country are a massive undertaking. If it’s driven by the private sector many may not be able to access or afford the vaccines.
In the meantime those that could get vaccinated are Tanzania’s elites (or those with means) who could fly out of the country and get vaccinated elsewhere.
Other Tanzanians that could access vaccines are border communities who, in the past, have crossed over to neighbouring countries and benefited from vaccination programmes. This may be the case if and when widespread vaccination starts happening in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Malawi.
There is still a chance that Tanzania could register and import the vaccines in the future. Magufuli has been sending mixed messages.
On one hand, the government has said that it doesn’t plan to order vaccines through COVAX – a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines – or any other mechanism. Indeed, the recently released COVAX allocation has zero doses for Tanzania.
On the other hand, the President has said that Tanzanians should only trust those vaccines that have been reviewed by Tanzanian experts and found to be safe.
First, as long as there are Covid-19 cases in Tanzania, it is impossible for neighbouring countries – with which it shares porous borders – to be COVID-free.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, is the risk of new variants developing in the country when no one is keeping track. New variants emerge because of uncontrolled spread.
If, down the line, a new variant emerges in Tanzania, the danger is that it could spread across the region and invalidate vaccinations that may have taken place if they’re not effective against that variant.
Burundi has also said it doesn’t need Covid-19 vaccines. The country’s Health Minister, Thaddee Ndikumana, told reporters that prevention is more important, and “since more than 95% of patients are recovering, we estimate that the vaccines are not yet necessary.”
The minister spoke while announcing new measures against the pandemic. The country closed its land and water borders last month. It now has well over 1,600 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Governments in other East African states are meeting resistance from conservative groups that have threatened to disrupt the vaccination exercises.
For instance, members of the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association (KCDA) have voiced their scepticism about the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in the country, saying they believe vaccination against the coronavirus to be “unnecessary”.
Health workers who are part of the KCDA are encouraging faith-based organisations to halt vaccine campaigns, as they claim the only reasonable defence against Covid-19 is observing safety precautions such as wearing masks and quarantining patients for 10-14 days.
But the Catholic Church of Kenya has dismissed the KCDA’s call to halt distribution of the vaccine and inoculation efforts, citing Pope Francis’ approval of the vaccine as evidence of its safety.
In the DR Congo, a group of people through their umbrella organisation in South Kivu province have warned government against attempts of carrying out vaccination against covid-19 in their area.
The citizen movement Réveil des indignés has warned non-governmental organizations and the authorities against any manipulation of cases of covid-19 in the provinces.
”Le Réveil des indignés has already announced that it will thwart any form of suspected vaccination campaign against Covid-19 in South Kivu, and warns NGOs and authorities against any manipulation of Covid-19 cases in the provinces. Insecurity kills more than covid-19,” the group said in a statement.
The arrival of the vaccines in Africa marks a historic step towards the goal to ensure equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines globally, in an unprecedented effort to provide at least 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021.
Africa expects to receive 90 million doses before the end of April, setting off mass vaccination campaigns beginning this week.
The biggest problem African countries face right now is the lack of vaccines on the global market to vaccinate a significant part of the population. Many rich countries will have vaccinated everyone that needs to be vaccinated by the end of this year. But African countries will only have a widely available vaccine late next year or even in 2023.
Many countries across the continent have paid a much higher cost per dose compared to the West. Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and others have paid $7 per dose, while South Africa paid for $5.25 per dose, nearly $3 more than the West.
Some government officials have explained that they were told the West was receiving discounts for investing in ‘research and development’ of the vaccines, hence they were the priority recipients and they got them at discounted rates.
Covax is a global scheme procuring and distributing Covid-19 inoculations at a subsided rate for poorer countries. It is led by Gavi – the vaccine alliance, the World Health Organisation, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, among others.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines were shipped from the Serum Institute of India.
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