Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 March 2021:
Sierra Leone has received the first batch of 96,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine from the COVAX programme – a global partnership co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), working with UNICEF as well as the World Bank, civil society organisations, manufacturers, and others. COVAX is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
“This is a historic step towards our goal to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally, in what will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. The delivery is part of a first wave of arrivals of an initial 528,000 doses that will continue till end of May 2021,” the statement released today reads.
The AstraZeneca vaccine sent to Sierra Leone were manufactured under licence by Serum Institute (PVT) Limited in India.
The 528,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will kick start the vaccination of 20% of Sierra Leone’s eight million population, through the COVAX programme in its unprecedented effort to deliver at least two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries by the end of 2021.
This initial consignment of the Oxford vaccine and the immediate subsequent shipments will prioritise critical target groups such as frontline health professionals, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.
“Throughout 2020, our health facilities have been faced with the task of responding to the pandemic, while at the same time, working to sustain the regular essential services – including providing maternal and child health services,” said Dr Austin Hinga Demby, Minister of Health and Sanitation (Photo).
“The life-saving vaccines which are now available for COVID-19, combined with the other important measures which we have adopted since the pandemic started, will afford us a good prospect to return to normalcy and to fulfil our obligations under the Universal Health Coverage Programme.”
Charlie Wetham – the Regional Head of Asia Pacific and Anglophone Africa at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said: “We are delighted Sierra Leone has today received its first COVAX vaccine doses and we look forward to the launch of the vaccination campaign in the coming days. Thanks to the work of the Government of Sierra Leone and of the COVAX partners, and with the support of our donors, we have been delivering on our promise to begin vaccinating vulnerable populations around the world – delivering over 10 million doses to our participating economies in the last 10 days.”
UN Resident Coordinator in Sierra Leone – Babatunde Ahonsi, said: “The arrival of this first batch of Covid-19 vaccines in Sierra Leone under the COVAX Facility is testimony to the power of global solidarity in response to a global health and development crisis. Strong international solidarity is similarly required to address other pressing global challenges such as the climate crisis that threatens the world’s quest for sustainable development”.
Dr Steven Velabo Shongwe – WHO Country Representative in Sierra Leone, said that; “Sierra Leone is at a turning point in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the country has now joined a growing number of other countries taking one of the most important actions to safeguard lives against COVID-19 through vaccination. Deployment of the COVID vaccine should be seen as one of the critical measures that have to be taken in addition to the strict adherence to other public health measures such as the correct use of facemask, handwashing and social distancing. I wish to thank all the collaborating partners that are supporting this vision of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines to reach the most vulnerable in Sierra Leone and the rest of the world.”
UNICEF Representative – Dr. Suleiman Braimoh, said that; “This is indeed a momentous occasion, which is a culmination of various efforts led by the Government of Sierra Leone to ensure that this pandemic is brought under control. UNICEF strongly believes that vaccinations are cost-effective ways to reduce the disease burden in a country, save lives. As more people get vaccinated, the faster it will be for us to see a gradual return to normalcy and to better access to health, education and protection services for every child and their families.”
Development and technical partners, including the European Union, Government of Japan, UK Government, the US Government and World Bank, are supporting the deployment and roll out plans of the vaccines in Sierra Leone.
The vaccination will begin mid-March and will be rolled out in a phased approach. Health workers and people over 70 years of age are being targeted first, while the second phase will include other essential workers such as military, police personnel, and teachers/university lecturers.
For several months, COVAX partners have been supporting governments and partners in readiness efforts, in preparation for this moment. They have been especially active in working with some of the world’s poorest countries: those that will benefit from the Advance Market Commitment (AMC), an innovative financial mechanism to help secure global and equitable access for COVID-19 vaccines.
This includes assisting with the development of national vaccination plans, support for 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.
The statement released today says that, in order for doses to be delivered to COVAX Facility participants via this first allocation round, several critical pieces must be in place, including confirmation of national regulatory authorisation criteria related to the vaccines delivered, indemnification agreements, national vaccination plans from AMC participants, as well as other logistical factors such as export and import licenses.
“As participants fulfil the above criteria and finalise readiness preparations, COVAX will issue purchase orders to the manufacturer and ship and deliver doses via an iterative process. This means deliveries for the first round of allocation will take place on a rolling basis and in tranches,” the statement reads.
COVAX has built a diverse portfolio of vaccines suitable for a range of settings and populations; and is on track to meeting its goal of delivering at least two billion doses of vaccine to participating countries around the globe in 2021, including at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses to the 92 lower-income COVAX Facility participants supported by the Gavi COVAX AMC.
Speaking at the handing over ceremony following the arrival of the vaccines at the Lungi International Airport, UN Resident Coordinator in Sierra Leone – Mr. Babatunde Ahonsi (Photo), made the following remarks:
“Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen, the doses of Covid-19 vaccine being handed over to the Government and People of Sierra Leone today have been secured through the global initiative to make Covid-19 vaccines accessible to all countries. This initiative, COVAX, the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance), and the World Health Organization – working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, UNICEF, the World Bank, and others.
“I would therefore like to, on behalf of the United Nations, thank all the member states and other institutions that have contributed financial and other resources to the roll-out of this critical global solution to a huge global health challenge.
“We are glad to be joined here this evening by the British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone, His Excellency Simon Mustard, and the EU Ambassador, His Excellency Tom Vens. We wish to thank the countries that you represent for the significant contributions that they have made to COVAX. We would also like to thank the World Bank, through its Country Director, Ms. Gayle Martin, for availing Sierra Leone resources for the deployment of Covid-19 vaccines.
“COVAX is the only truly global solution to this pandemic because it is the only effort to ensure that people across the world will get access to COVID-19 vaccines irrespective of their income level. Yet, it still needs to be fully funded.
“With this pandemic, we know we are only safe if everyone is safe. It is thus in every country’s national interest to work for universal access to Covid-19 vaccines, as a global public good. The arrival of this first batch of Covid-19 vaccines in Sierra Leone under the COVAX Facility is a testimony to the power of global solidarity in response to an unprecedented global health and development crisis. Strong international solidarity is similarly required to address other pressing global challenges such as the climate crisis that threaten the world’s quest of sustainable development.”
With the welcome arrival of the Oxford vaccine to Sierra Leone on the heels of 200,000 doses of Chinese-made vaccine that arrived in Freetown last week, amidst serious concerns about the safety and efficacy of the Chinese vaccine, questions are now being asked about whether the government will force a sceptic citizen to take the Chinese vaccine.
Many in Sierra Leone have said they will not be taking the Chinese vaccine. There are calls for the President, his family, government ministers, the Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone, and the entire Chinese community in Freetown to be the first to line up in public to receive the Chinese vaccine.