Redeploying WHO-backed Covid vaccines, from Congo to Ghana

A woman receives an Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at the Ridge Hospital in Accra, Ghana on March 2, 2021. (Photo by Nipah Dennis / AFP) (KEYSTONE/AFP/NIPAH DENNIS)

Next week Ghana will start administering second Covid-19 vaccines, using doses from the World Health Organization (WHO) backed Covax facility.

Boosting Ghana’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, Dr Franklin Asiedu-Bekoe, director of public health at the Ghana Health Service (GHS), told Geneva Solutions that the “AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines received from the DRC will be administered very soon to those who have received their first shot.”

Tranported by the United Nations Children’s Fund from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 350,000 additional doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines hit the airport tarmac in Accra, the capital last Friday. “We plan to start administering the vaccines by 19 May which should give us plenty of time before the expiration date,” said Asiedu-Bekoe.

The West African nation will be pushing vaccination efforts over the next month to ensure  that the doses do not exceed their expiration date of 24 June 2021.

Following delays in their vaccination campaign the DRC will redistribute 1.3 million of the 1.7 million doses received from the Covax facility, an initiative backed by the WHO which aims to ensure equal access to safe and effective vaccines globally. The Central African country received the batch on 2 March but delayed the vaccination campaign after several European countries suspended use of the AstraZeneca shot due to reports of rare blood clots.

So far, the DRC has administered less than 3,000 doses and will not be able to inoculate thousands before they expire.

**Read also: **More countries suspend Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as health experts urge continued use

On the African continent, 42 out of 54 countries have joined the Covax initiative, with 18.3 million doses received between them. The aim is to deliver 600 million shots, covering about 20 per cent of the continent’s population.

Almost half of the AstraZeneca doses from Congo went to Angola, with the rest being shared between Togo, Central African Republic, Madagascar and Ghana.

Ghana was the first country to receive the doses from the Covax facility in February and commenced the vaccination campaign on 2 March with an initial 600,000 AstraZeneca doses.

“The mass vaccination of people living in the 43 Covid hotspot districts” in the Greater Accra, Ashanti and Central regions, said said Asiedu-Bekoe, with eligible candidates in these districts being targeted for the second AstraZeneca dose manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII).

Two months into the inoculation campaign almost 900,000 persons have been vaccinated against the virus according to the GHS.

Recently however, the SII informed Covax that its scheduled supplies for March and April would be on hold till the Indian government says otherwise. The plan was for the SII to supply 40 million doses in March and up to 50 million doses in April, with this hold up deemed to have “catastrophic” consequences, expressed the top chief of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention John Nkengasong, at a press briefing in Addis Ababa.

Currently the AstraZeneca shots account for as much as 86 per cent of the Covax procurement.

Still China has decided to provide 10 million vaccines to the Covax initiative. The Sinopharm Covid vaccine approved by the WHO last week for emergency use could potentially ease the global shortage.

"This expands the list of COVID-19 vaccines that Covax can buy, and gives countries confidence to expedite their own regulatory approval, and to import and administer a vaccine," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing.

Getting this stamp of approval signals to national regulators that the product is safe and effective. Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority has however so far only declared the AstraZeneca and the Russian Sputnik vaccines as safe-for-use in the fight against the virus.

To tackle the disease Ghana is also relying on 300,000 Sputnik vaccines and “hoping to procure more”, said Asiedu-Bekoe.

As of Wednesday, the GHS confirmed 93,000 cases and 783 Covid deaths.