Rwanda has started COVID-19 vaccinations with limited supplies of vaccines acquired through unnamed international partners and said the programme had started with frontline healthcare workers.
Rwanda is the first East African country to access COVID 19 vaccination. Rwanda has been battling a surge in infections of COVID-19 which forced the government to re-impose a lockdown last month in the capital Kigali.
Authorities banned movement in and out of the city, except for essential services and for tourists.
In a tweet, Rwanda’s ministry of health said the country’s National Vaccination Program had begun “vaccinating high-risk groups, notably frontline healthcare staff, with WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines acquired through international partnerships in limited quantities”.
The initial vaccination phase, the ministry said, will be followed by a wider roll out with supplies secured via the World Health Organization’s COVAX scheme to facilitate vaccine access by poor and middle-income countries.
COVAX has notified countries in Africa of the estimated dose allocation for the first phase of COVID-19 vaccine delivery. The global initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) aims to start shipping nearly 90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the continent in February, in what will be Africa’s largest ever mass vaccination campaign.
COVAX notified countries through letters which were sent on 30 January 2021. Amid surging demand for COVID-19 vaccines, the final shipments will be based on production capacities of vaccine manufacturers and the readiness of countries. Recipient countries are required to submit finalized national deployment and vaccination plans to receive vaccines from the COVAX facility.
Rwanda hopes to secure additional supplies via the African Union (AU) window. The AU has secured more than 600 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for its member states. So far Rwanda has recorded about 17,000 cases of COVID-19 and 236 deaths.
The Rwandan government has assured its people that the COVID-19 vaccination plan is ready, with infrastructure, protocols, and personnel in place.
Hassan Sibomana, the director of the vaccination unit at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said the initial challenge of lack of capacity to store vaccines — which are require to be stored at minus 70 Celsius (minus 158 Fahrenheit) — has been addressed.
The ministry has a capacity to store about 300,000 vaccine doses, Sibomana told reporters, underlining that vaccine safety is their priority to avoid any side effects on people.
Rwanda is set to purchase vaccines from AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, and Moderna, an American biotechnology firm.
Five new ultra-cold freezers worth around $50,000 were purchased while other equipment to be used to distribute the vaccines to different parts of the country are also ready, according to the Health Ministry.
Rwanda expects the vaccines between March and April this year.
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