By Camillus Eboh and Omar Mohammed
ABUJA / NAIROBI (Reuters) – Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda began vaccinating front-line healthcare workers and vulnerable citizens against COVID-19 on Friday as Africa, the world’s poorest continent and home to 1.3 billion people, intensified its vaccination campaigns.
While some wealthy Western nations have already inoculated millions of people, many African states have had trouble securing doses and have yet to give a single injection.
But the COVAX global vaccine exchange facility, co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the GAVI vaccine alliance and others, has begun to bear fruit in nations from Ghana to Rwanda.
“This means that I will die when God wants because the coronavirus cannot kill me now,” said Stephanie Nyirankuriza, 90, leaning on a cane after being shot at a health facility east of the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
Rwanda is the first nation in Africa to use doses from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer that require ultra-cold storage.
The government of President Paul Kagame, which prides itself on its technological prowess but is often criticized for being authoritarian, has installed a special infrastructure to keep the Pfizer vaccine at the required -70 ° C.
The Kagame government, which has received injections from Pfizer and AstraZeneca through COVAX facilities, plans to vaccinate up to 30% of Rwanda’s 12 million people by the end of the year.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy, inoculated healthcare workers with injections of AstraZeneca on Friday, the start of a campaign that aims to vaccinate 80 million of 200 million people this year.
“I want everyone to be vaccinated,” Ngong Cyprian, a 42-year-old doctor, told Reuters in the capital Abuja when he became the first in Nigeria to receive his vaccine, as officials applauded and cheered.
President Muhammadu Buhari will be vaccinated on Saturday in an effort to increase public confidence in vaccines.
Nigeria received 3.92 million doses of AstraZeneca on Tuesday under COVAX, but the facility only aims to cover 20% of the population in the countries it helps. Nigeria also expects at least 40 million doses from the African Union, as well as 100,000 donated doses of the Covishield vaccine from India.
‘THE VACCINE IS SAFE’
Cheers received the first vaccines in Kenya on Friday after it received its first million doses this week through COVAX.
“I feel great,” said Patrick Amoth, director general of the Ministry of Health, after receiving his vaccination. “The vaccine is safe.”
Kenya, which is eager to revive its tourism-dependent economy, East Africa’s largest, plans to vaccinate 1.25 million people by June and another 9.6 million in the next phase, with more vaccines expected in the next few. weeks.
“This may mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” said Susan Mochache, a senior official at the Ministry of Health.
Neighboring Uganda received its first batch of 864,000 doses of AstraZeneca via COVAX on Friday and aims to begin inoculations on March 10.
As of Thursday, Africa as a whole had reported nearly 4 million infections and 104,000 deaths, a figure still relatively small compared to other continents, with higher national death counts in the United States, India, Brazil, Russia and Britain.
South Africa has by far the highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths on the African continent, with 1.5 million cases and more than 50,000 deaths to date.
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 inhabitants.
The country was tentatively assigned 12 million doses developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson in a UA vaccination plan, but it was unclear how many vaccines it would seek to buy after it halted plans to use the AstraZeneca injection. ($ 1 = 109.5500 Kenyan shillings)
(Additional reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana in Kigali, Elias Biryabirema in Kampala, and Alexander Winning in Johannesburg; written by Gareth Jones; edited by Alex Richardson)