By Camillus Eboh and Omar Mohammed
ABUJA / NAIROBI (Reuters) – Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda began inoculating frontline health 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 vaccinated millions of people, many African states have struggled to secure doses and have yet to give a single shot.
But the Global Vaccine Sharing COVAX facility, 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 I will die whenever God wants because coronavirus cannot kill me now,”
Rwanda is the first nation in Africa to use the pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s doses that require ultra-cold storage.
President Paul Kagame’s government, proud of technological prowess but often criticized as authoritarian, has installed special infrastructure to keep the Pfizer vaccine at the required -70 ° C.
The Kagame government, which has received both Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots through the COVAX facility, 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 health workers with AstraZeneca shots on Friday, the start of a campaign aimed at vaccinating 80 million of the 200 million strong population this year.
“I want everyone to be vaccinated,” Ngong Cyprian, a 42-year-old doctor, told Reuters in the capital, Abuja, as he became the first in Nigeria to receive his shot while officials clapped and cheered.
President Muhammadu Buhari will be vaccinated on Saturday in an attempt to increase public confidence in the shots.
Nigeria on Tuesday took over 3.92 million AstraZeneca doses under COVAX, but the plant aims to cover only 20% of the population of the countries it helps. Nigeria also expects at least 40 million doses from the African Union as well as 100,000 donated doses of India’s Covishield vaccine.
‘THE VACCINE IS SAFE’
Applause greeted the first vaccinations in Kenya on Friday after receiving its first million doses this week via COVAX.
“I’m fine,” said Patrick Amoth, director general of the health ministry, after receiving his shot. “The vaccine is safe.”
Kenya, which is eager to revive its tourist-dependent economy, East Africa’s largest, plans to vaccinate 1.25 million people by June and a further 9.6 million in the next phase with more vaccines expected within a few weeks.
“This could mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” said Susan Mochache, a senior official at the health ministry.
Neighboring Uganda took over its first batch of 864,000 AstraZeneca doses via COVAX on Friday, aiming to begin inoculation on March 10th.
As of Thursday, Africa as a whole had reported nearly 4 million infections and 104,000 deaths – still a relatively small toll compared to other continents, with higher national death rates in the United States, India, Brazil, Russia and the United Kingdom.
South Africa has recorded the vast majority 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 population.
The country was tentatively allocated 12 million doses developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson in an AU vaccine plan, but it was unclear how many vaccines it would seek to buy after it stopped plans to use the AstraZeneca shot. ($ 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)