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African countries to start vaccination as Serum ships first batch under Covax

The Pune-based firm shipped 600,000 doses of Covishield to the Ghanaian capital, a spokesperson for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said.

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Serum Institute is also expected to dispatch another shipment to Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire on Friday. Ghana is expected to get 2.41 million doses by June, while Cote d’Ivoire is likely to get 2.04 million shots by then, according to the draft distribution forecast for Covax.

“It is a historic moment for all of us as Covax receives its first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by SII, ‘Covishield’. We are delighted to see the combined efforts of everyone result in saving the lives of millions. SII, will continue to be at the forefront of fighting the pandemic with affordable and immunogenic vaccines,” Serum Institute chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla said in a statement on Wednesday.

In total, Serum Institute will deliver 240 million doses to various low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), including Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and India, under Covax by June at an agreed price of $3 per dose which will be borne by the facility’s dedicated fund.

The West African countries of Ghana, with its 31 million population, and Cote d’Ivoire, with 26 million, were selected as the first recipient after they sent a rollout plan to Covax proving their health-care teams and cold chain equipment were ready to support a quick distribution.

“Ghana is among the first countries to receive Covax vaccines based on various factors, including a strong rollout plan & all regulatory steps in place. The shipments represent the beginning of the largest vaccine procurement & supply operation in history,” the WHO’s African Region office tweeted.

According to a Gavi spokesperson, Cote d’Ivoire will start its covid-19 vaccination drive on Monday, while Ghana will begin inoculations on Tuesday.

Covax is aimed at equitable access to covid-19 vaccines globally and is jointly led by the WHO, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi. Under the facility’s Advance Market Commitment (AMC) programme, 92 low- and middle-income countries will get vaccine supported by Covax’s dedicated fund.

The facility has been criticised so far for not being effective amid vaccine hoarding by rich countries. The US has administered over 65 million doses and UK nearly 20 million, while Canada has reserved as many as five times the number of doses it requires.

On the other hand, Covax—which would be the biggest driver of vaccination in poor countries—had before today received none, raising concerns that poor countries would yet again be left behind due to hoarding by richer nations.

Covax plans to roll out over 2 billion doses by the end of the year, with at least 1.3 billion going to lower-income countries at no cost to their governments.

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