Ghana has become the first country to receive Covid-19 vaccines through the Covax vaccine-sharing initiative.
A delivery of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Accra on February 24. The first recipients are due to be healthcare workers.
The Covax scheme aims to reduce the divide between rich countries and poorer nations unable to buy doses.
The program is planning to deliver about two billion vaccine doses globally by the end of the year.
Ghana, which has a population of over 30 million, was chosen as the first recipient of the free vaccines after promising quick distribution and meeting the criteria set by Covax.
Further deliveries are expected to neighboring Ivory Coast later this week, the Covax alliance says.
Vaccinations are expected to start in Ghana next week, and, as well as health workers, those over 60, people with underlying health conditions, and senior officials are due to be prioritized.
The vaccines delivered to Accra were produced by the Serum Institute of India and developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The vaccine has been approved by the WHO and its roll-out in Ghana is not part of a trial.
The doses being sent to lower-income countries such as Ghana are funded by donations. As well as procuring and delivering the vaccines, Covax partners are supporting local authorities in areas such as training people to administer the vaccine and helping provide an adequate cold-chain storage and delivery system.
Many nations in the developed world, which began their own vaccinations months ago, have faced criticism for buying or ordering more vaccines than they need.
However, many of those countries placed orders for doses with pharmaceutical companies before knowing whether the vaccine in development would be effective. They were hedging their bets – placing multiple orders in the hope that at least some of them would work out.
The Covax scheme is led by the WHO and also involves the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
In a joint statement, the WHO and the United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF) said it was a momentous occasion and “critical in bringing the pandemic to an end”.
South Africa is considering swapping or selling the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, the health minister announces.
The African country has 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
However, plans to use it to vaccinate health workers have been put on hold after a small study suggested a “minimal” effect against the South African new variant in young people.
South Africa now intends to use a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson instead.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told at a news conference: “There are already some countries that are asking that we must sell it to them.
“Our scientists will continue with further deliberations on the AstraZeneca vaccine used in South Africa and depending on their advice, the vaccine will be swapped before the expiry date.”
Zweli Mkhize added that he was due to speak with the WHO shortly after the news conference.
South Africa has recorded almost 1.5 million cases of coronavirus, and 47,000 deaths – far more than anywhere else on the continent.
Researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and the UK’s Oxford University carried out the trial, which has not yet been published or peer-reviewed, on around 2,000 healthy, young people with an average age of 31.
They found that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild and moderate cases of the South Africa variant of coronavirus in that low-risk group.
This means that even in people who’ve been vaccinated, the virus could still spread from person to person.
However, the research did not look at the impact of the vaccine on severe disease from Covid-19 because there was no-one in the study who was in a high-risk category (over 50) or had an underlying health condition.
Oxford University researchers say promising results from other trials using similar vaccines in South Africa suggest their shot should be effective at preventing severe cases – the main aim of all Covid vaccines.
South Africa now plans to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to a group of 100,000 older nurses and healthcare workers.
That’s to see if it is effective against the new variant and in preventing severe illness in an older age group.
The South Africa variant carries a mutation that appears to make it more contagious or easy to spread.
However, there is no evidence that the variant causes more serious illness for the vast majority of people who become infected.
As with the original strain, the risk is highest for people who are elderly or have significant underlying health conditions.
Scientists say the variant accounts for 90% of new Covid-19 cases in South Africa.
At least 20 other countries, including the UK, Austria, Japan, Kenya and Norway have found cases of the variant.
The health minister for neighboring Eswatini, previously known as Swaziland, said on February 9 that it would no longer use the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The health authorities in Malawi have said they still plan to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Negotiations are still going on over the amount and the price South Africa will pay for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is made by Belgian pharmaceutical firm Janssen.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not yet been approved for use in South Africa.
The first of the nine million doses it has ordered are due to arrive next week.
The South African health minister said these would be provided to some 500,000 health workers as “an implementation study”, possibly starting as early as next week, but this was still to be confirmed.
He also promised to explain next week just how much of the vaccine will be coming to South Africa.
Zweli Mkhize said that South Africa had already secured vaccine doses from Pfizer which it has agreed to bring in earlier than originally agreed.
South Africa is also in discussions with other manufactures, including the makers of Sputnik V, Sinovac and Moderna vaccines, he added.
On February 8, the WHO warned against jumping to conclusions about the efficacy of Covid vaccines.
Dr. Katherine O’Brien, the WHO’s director of immunization, said it was very plausible that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would still have a meaningful impact on the South African variant, especially when it came to preventing hospitalizations and death.
She stressed that the WHO’s expert panel held “a very positive view” of proceeding with the use of the vaccine, including in areas where variants were circulating, but that more data and information would be needed as the pandemic continued.
South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said his government would wait for further advice on how best to proceed with the AstraZeneca vaccine in light of the findings.
In the meantime, he said, the government would offer vaccines produced by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in the coming weeks.
Early results from Moderna suggest its vaccine is still effective against the South Africa variant, while AstraZeneca has said its vaccine provides good protection against the UK variant first identified late last year.
Early results also suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine protects against the new variants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also backed the EU’s approach in a TV interview.
France’s health regulator said there was still not enough data about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine for patients over 65 years of age.
“These data will arrive in the coming weeks. In the meantime we recommend its use for people under 65 years old,” it said.
It recommended the vaccine for health workers and vulnerable people between the ages of 50 and 65.
More than 1.5 million people have received a Covid vaccine so far in France.
Last week Germany’s vaccine commission said it could not recommend the use of the vaccine in people aged over 65.
On February 2, health authorities in Sweden and Poland made similar announcements and Belgium’s health minister said the vaccine, for the moment, would only be given to people below the age of 55. Italy’s medicines agency on Saturday also approved the jab for all adults under 55.
In a study yet to be formally published, scientists at Oxford University have said the vaccine could lead to a “substantial” fall in the spread of the virus.
Individual EU countries are free to decide who vaccines should be given to once they have been approved at EU level.
In her TV interview on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “every vaccine is welcome in the European Union”, adding that good data had emerged for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
In her interview with Le Monde, Ursula von der Leyen admitted that the EU had made missteps.
She said: “When you make urgent decisions – and in this year of crisis we’ve taken around 900 – there’s always the chance of missing something.”
However, Ursula von der Leyen said 18 million vaccine doses had been delivered across the EU so far and many more would follow over the next two months.
No-one who received the Oxford vaccine in trials was hospitalized or became seriously ill due to Covid-19.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is given via two injections to the arm, the second between 4 and 12 weeks after the first.
When it approved it last week, the EMA noted that most participants in test studies were under 55 years of age.
The agency said that while there were not yet enough results to show how well the vaccine will work in older people, “protection is expected, given that an immune response is seen in this age group and based on experience with other vaccines”.
AstraZeneca has said a US study will shortly provide additional data on the vaccine’s efficacy in older adults.
British and Russian scientists are teaming up to trial a combination of the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccines to see if protection against Covid-19 can be improved.
According to the researchers, mixing two similar vaccines could lead to a better immune response in people.
The trials, to be held in Russia, will involve over-18s, although it’s not clear how many people will be involved.
Oxford recently published results showing their vaccine was safe and effective in trials on people.
The researchers are still collecting data on the effectiveness of the vaccine in older age groups while waiting for approval from the UK regulator, the MHRA.
AstraZeneca said it was exploring combinations of different adenovirus vaccines to find out whether mixing them leads to a better immune response and, therefore, greater protection.
The Oxford vaccine, developed in partnership with AstraZeneca, and the Russian Sputnik vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow, are similar because they both contain genetic material from the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein.
They work differently to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been approved in the UK, Canada, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and recommended for approval by medical experts in the US.
Early results from late-stage trials of the Russian vaccine have shown promising results.
Russia was the first country to register a Covid vaccine for emergency use – in August, despite only having been tested on a few dozen people.
Sputnik V is now being offered to Russians as part of a mass vaccination campaign.
AstraZeneca said it was “working with industry partners, governments and research institutions around the world, and will soon begin exploring with Gamaleya Research Institute in Russia to understand whether two adenovirus-based vaccines can be successfully combined”.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.