By Deng Machol
Juba – South Sudan on Tuesday launched the Covid-19 vaccination exercise in three centers in Juba capital of East Africa’s youngest nation after a week of deliberation within the country’s leadership.
On March 30th, medical doctors made a presentation to President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the leadership of the country about the vaccine but the presidency downplayed prospects of its launching.
But, on Tuesday, South Sudan’s Minister of Health, Elizabeth Acuei officiated a launching at the Juba Teaching Hospital, she became the first government official in the country to take the vaccine.
The three facilities where the vaccine will initially be available are Juba Teaching Hospital, Giada Military Hospital, and the Police Hospital in Buluk in Juba.
In the coming weeks and months, all frontline health workers in South Sudan will be offered the vaccine through a national vaccination campaign.
Subsequently, people with co-morbidities and people above 65 years of age will also be offered the vaccine.
Speaking to journalists during the vaccine launch, Minister Elizabeth Achuei reassured that the vaccine is safe.
Minister Achuei said “the aim of the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine is to protect the prioritized groups against COVID-19”.The vaccination is targeting health care workers as well as persons aged 65 years and older, given their increased risk of severe disease and death due to a potential COVID-19 infection.”
“Do not be afraid, I just took it now. So there is nothing really to be afraid about,” minister said.
South Sudan aims at vaccinating 40 per cent of its population against COVID-19.
The COVAX facility has committed to providing half of the required doses meaning 732,000 doses in total.
Therefore, the vaccination must be done in phases as the vaccines arrive.
“This is a significant moment for the people of South Sudan. “said Patience Musanhu, Gavi Senior Country Manager for South Sudan. “By protecting the most vulnerable groups, we can save lives, take pressure off health systems and ease the economic burden brought on by the pandemic.”
A person being vaccinated with the Astra Zeneca vaccine requires two doses to ensure optimal immune response against the COVID-19 virus.
The COVID-19 vaccination in South Sudan will be provided on a voluntary basis and free of charge. All people receiving the vaccine will be asked to consent prior to being vaccinated.
“The COVID-19 vaccination marks an important step towards control of COVID-19 in South Sudan, which pose a threat to our well-being”, said Dr Fabian Ndenzako, WHO Representative to South Sudan. “Safe, effective, and quality vaccines for COVID-19 are our best hope for bringing the pandemic under control, together with other public health interventions, such as physical distancing, washing hands and mask use”.
Over several months, COVAX partners have supported governments and partners, particularly in low-income countries including South Sudan, to prepare for the vaccination roll-out.
This includes assisting with the development of national vaccination plans, supporting cold chain infrastructure, as well as stockpiling of half a billion syringes and safety boxes for their disposal, masks, gloves and other equipment to ensure that there is enough equipment for health workers to start vaccinating priority groups as soon as possible.
“If there is one lesson we can draw from the pandemic, it is that we need more partnerships like these in the world,” said the UNICEF South Sudan Representative Hamida Lasseko. “UNICEF is proud to have made vaccine deliveries all over the world including South Sudan on behalf of COVAX. Children in South Sudan are now safer because the warm hands of health workers are safer through vaccination.
Minister Achuei further commended the health ministry’s partners such as UNICEF and WHO for their continuous support to combat Covid-19 in the restive country.
In his statement to the press during the vaccine launch in Juba on Tuesday, the World Health Organization Country representative in South Sudan, Dr. Fabian Ndenzako said he was excited to witness the launch.
The health body further advised the public to continue practicing safety measures even after taking the vaccine.
This is the first time the country rolls out the vaccine since receiving the first batch of its 132,000 doses of AstraZeneca from the COVAX facility on March 25.
They are part of the 2.4 million doses South Sudan requested from COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, known as COVAX.
The jabs will also be put in the arms of people with underlying conditions such as cancer, asthma, and heart disease, among others.