© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A shipment of AstraZeneca / Oxford COVID-19 vaccines in Kitengela
By Camillus Eboh and Omar Mohammed
ABUJA / NAIROBI (Reuters) – Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda began vaccinating health care workers and vulnerable citizens against COVID-19 on Friday as Africa, the world's poorest continent and home to 1.3 billion people, launched its vaccination campaigns reinforced.
While some wealthy Western nations have already vaccinated millions of people, many African states are struggling to secure doses and have yet to administer a single shot.
However, the COVAX global vaccine sharing facility, jointly managed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and others, has begun to bear fruit in countries from Ghana to Rwanda.
"That means I'll die if God wills because the coronavirus can't kill me now," said 90-year-old Stephanie Nyirankuriza, leaning on a walking stick after she was shot in a health center east of the Rwandan capital, Kigali was.
Rwanda is the first nation in Africa to use a pharmaceutical company Pfizer (NYSE 🙂 Cans that require ultra-cold storage.
The government of President Paul Kagame, proud of its technological prowess but often criticized as authoritarian, has installed special infrastructure to keep the Pfizer vaccine at the required -70 ° C.
The Kagame government, which has received both Pfizer and AstraZeneca (NASDAQ 🙂 shots through the COVAX facility, plans to vaccinate up to 30% of the 12 million people in Rwanda by the end of the year.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country and its largest economy, vaccinated healthcare workers with AstraZeneca shots on Friday. This was the start of a campaign aimed at vaccinating 80 million of the 200 million residents that year.
"I want everyone to be vaccinated," Ngong Cyprian, a 42-year-old doctor, told Reuters in the capital, Abuja, when he was the first in Nigeria to receive his shot while officials clapped and cheered.
President Muhammadu Buhari will be vaccinated on Saturday to increase public confidence in the shots.
Nigeria received 3.92 million doses of AstraZeneca as part of COVAX on Tuesday, but the facility is said to only cover 20% of the population in the countries where it is helping. Nigeria also expects at least 40 million doses from the African Union and 100,000 donated doses of the Indian vaccine Covishield.
"The vaccine is safe"
Applause welcomed the first vaccinations in Kenya on Friday after receiving its first million doses via COVAX this week.
"I feel great," said Patrick Amoth, director general of the Department of Health, after getting his shot. "The vaccine is safe."
Kenya, aiming to revitalize its tourism-dependent economy, East Africa's largest, plans to vaccinate 1.25 million people by June and an additional 9.6 million in the next phase. More vaccines are expected within a few weeks.
"This could mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic," said Susan Mochache, a senior health department official.
Neighboring Uganda received its first batch of 864,000 AstraZeneca cans via COVAX on Friday and is slated to start vaccinations on March 10th.
As of Thursday, Africa had reported nearly 4 million infections and 104,000 deaths in total – still a relatively small number compared to other continents, with higher national deaths in the US, India, Brazil, Russia and the UK.
South Africa has by far the most COVID-19 infections and deaths on the African continent, with 1.5 million cases and more than 50,000 deaths.
On Friday, a senior health official said South Africa was negotiating with an African Union (AU) platform to buy vaccines for at least 10 million of its population.
The country has been tentatively allotted 12 million doses developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE 🙂 in an AU vaccination schedule. However, it was unclear how many vaccines it wanted to buy after plans to use the AstraZeneca shot were suspended. ($ 1 = 109.5500 Kenyan Shillings)