By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Sierra Leone has Monday evening received the first batch of 96,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine shipped via the COVAX facility, a partnership between the Government Sierra Leone, CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO. The arrival of this vaccine is part of a first wave of arrivals of an initial 528,000 doses that will continue till end of May 2021.
It could be recalled that last February, the West African nation received 200,000 doses of Sino Pharm Covid-19 vaccines and 201,600 pieces of disposable needles and syringes from the Chinese government as a donation in order to help the country in its corona virus eradication drive and to save the disease from spreading .
In a joint press release, the government of Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization, CEPI and UNICEF said the coming of the AstraZeneca vaccine was a historic step towards their goal to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally, adding that it will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history.
“On 6 March 2021, COVAX shipped 96,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, licensed and manufactured by Serum Institute (PVT) Limited from Maharashtra, India, to Freetown, Sierra Leone, arriving in the evening of 8 March 2021. The arrival of this first batch of 528,000 doses will kick start the vaccination of 20% of Sierra Leone’s 8,000,000 population as part of the COVAX Facility in its unprecedented effort to deliver at least 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021,’’the statement said.
According to the joint release, this initial consignment of the vaccine and the immediate subsequent shipments will prioritize critical target groups such as frontline health professionals, vulnerable including the aged people and people with underlying health conditions.
“Throughout 2020, our health facilities have been faced with the task of responding to the pandemic, while at the same time, working to sustain the regular essential services including providing maternal and child health services,” said Dr. Austin Hinga Demby, Minister of Health and Sanitation. “The lifesaving vaccines which are now available for COVID-19, combined with the other important measures which we have adopted since the pandemic started, will afford us a good prospect to return to normalcy and to fulfill our obligations under the Universal Health Coverage Programme,” the Minister of Health added.
“We are delighted Sierra Leone has today received its first COVAX vaccine doses and we look forward to the launch of the vaccination campaign in the coming days. Thanks to the work of the Government of Sierra Leone and of the COVAX partners, and with the support of our donors, we have been delivering on our promise to begin vaccinating vulnerable populations around the world delivering over 10 million doses to our participating economies in the last 10 days.” said Charlie Wetham, Regional Head, Asia Pacific and Anglophone Africa at of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “Sierra Leone is at a turning point in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic as the country has now joined a growing number of other countries taking one of the most important actions to safeguard lives against COVID-19 through vaccination,” said Dr. Steven Velabo Shongwe, WHO Country Representative. “Deployment of the COVID vaccine should be seen as one of the critical measures that have to be taken in addition to the strict adherence to other public health measures such as the correct use of facemask, hand washing and social distancing.
I wish to thank all the collaborating partners that are supporting this vision of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines to reach the most vulnerable in Sierra Leone and the rest of the world.” “This is indeed a momentous occasion, which is a culmination of various efforts led by the Government of Sierra Leone to ensure that this pandemic is brought under control,” said UNICEF Representative,
On his part, the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Babatunde Ahonsi said the doses of Covid-19 vaccine that has being handed over to the Government and People of Sierra Leone today have been secured through the global initiative to make Covid-19 vaccines accessible to all countries.
“ This initiative, COVAX, the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance), and the World Health Organization – working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, UNICEF, the World Bank, and others,’’ he said.
He added that COVAX is the only truly global solution to this pandemic because it is the only effort to ensure that people across the world will get access to COVID-19 vaccines irrespective of their income level. Yet, it still needs to be fully funded.
“With this pandemic, we know we are only safe if everyone is safe. It is thus in every country’s national interest to work for universal access to Covid-19 vaccines, as a global public good. The arrival of this first batch of Covid-19 vaccines in Sierra Leone under the COVAX Facility is a testimony to the power of global solidarity in response to an unprecedented global health and development crisis. Strong international solidarity is similarly required to address other pressing global challenges such as the climate crisis that threaten the world’s quest of sustainable development,’’ the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Babatunde Ahonsi further added.
Meanwhile, a recent poll by the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) in the country said that only 43% of Freetown residents are willing to take a covid -19 jab.