Kenya calls first vaccines “bazookas”, Rwanda secures Pfizer shots

NAIROBI / KIGALI (Reuters) – Kenya received over a million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, while Rwanda said it was the first in Africa to have received shots from Pfizer as efforts made the world’s poorest nations to vaccinate were accelerated.

FILE PHOTO: Kenyan workers receive the first batch of AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccines as part of the COVAX program against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya on March 3, 2021. REUTERS / Thomas Mukoya

With fewer resources and tougher logistics than in other regions, the African nations are striving to secure the cans that are necessary to protect their 1.3 billion people and to safely reopen their economies.

Africa is relatively easily affected by the coronavirus compared to other regions, recording 104,000 deaths according to a Reuters tally. This is less than the national numbers in the US, India, Brazil, Russia, and the UK.

Kenya’s batch, which arrived on a Qatar Airways passenger flight, is the first of an initial allotment of 3.56 million cans by the global COVAX facility.

“We received … machine guns, bazookas and tanks to wage this war against COVID-19,” said Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe when the cans arrived at Nairobi’s main airport.

COVAX, led by the GAVI Vaccine Alliance together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, aims to deliver over 1.3 billion doses to 92 low and middle income countries covering up to 20% of their population.

The initiative’s supporters hope to create a level playing field that will allow wealthier nations to quickly vaccinate millions of poorer regions. Few African nations have started vaccinating citizens with vaccines obtained outside of COVAX.

The first recordings under COVAX arrive this week in several African countries, including Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.

COLDHOUSE

In Kigali, officials said Rwanda will receive the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 shots sent to Africa as part of the vaccine-sharing program. The Pfizer vaccine poses an additional logistical challenge as it requires ultra-cold storage.

The batch of 102,960 doses was due in Kigali on Wednesday, hours after a flight of 240,000 AstraZeneca doses landed from the Serum Institute of India, the Ministry of Health said. The government has installed special infrastructure to keep the vaccine at -70 degrees.

“Rwanda is one of the first low-income countries to have an ultra-cold chain,” said Fode Ndiaye, the United Nations-based coordinator.

Rwanda plans to kick off its vaccination campaign on Friday, with frontline health workers and other people at risk a priority. She hopes to vaccinate 30% of her roughly 12 million people before the end of this year.

Africa has reported relatively few COVID-19 deaths compared to other continents, but economies across the continent are also affected by lockdown measures.

Kenya, which has so far recorded 106,470 infections and 1,863 deaths from the virus, has had a major economic impact on the virus, which has reduced the flow of tourists, a major source of foreign exchange and jobs.

Nairobi plans to prioritize 400,000 health workers nationwide in a vaccination campaign from Friday, the Ministry of Health said.

It will join the Ivory Coast, Ghana and South Africa among the nations in sub-Saharan Africa to launch vaccination campaigns.

Letter from Duncan Miriri; Adaptation by Andrew Cawthorne

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