HARARE – Zimbabwe on Friday received its first allocation of just under a million shots from COVAX, a global scheme designed to ensure fair access to Covid-19 vaccines.
An interim distribution forecast published by the World Health Organisation in February said Zimbabwe would receive 1.152 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, which is not yet approved in the country.
Instead, COVAX delivered China’s Sinopharm vaccine which was one of the first to be approved along with Sinovac, India’s Covaxin and Russia’s Sputnik V. The single-dose American vaccine by Johnson & Johnson was recently authorised for use in Zimbabwe.
Tajudeen Oyewale, UNICEF’s country representative for Zimbabwe said: “I would like to thank and commend the government of Zimbabwe for their tremendous efforts in the Covid-19 vaccine roll out so far, with Zimbabwe continuing to be one of the leaders on the continent in vaccinating its population against the virus.”
Maria Ribeiro, the United Nations resident coordinator in Zimbabwe said the arrival of the COVAX vaccines was “an important and tangible act of solidarity from the international community and will bolster the admirable national Covid-19 vaccination rollout by the government of Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabwe has so far fully vaccinated close to 2.3 million people or 15 percent of the population – one of only a handful of African countries to reach the target.
To date, Zimbabwe has procured over 12 million doses and accompanying injection safety materials using its own local resources and donations from the governments of China, India and Russia.
The health ministry has set an ambitious target to vaccinate at least 60 percent of the country’s 15 million people by Christmas, but vaccine uptake remains hampered by misinformation and poor distribution.
On Friday, the World Health Organisation said it would for the first time distribute shots only to countries with the lowest levels of coverage.
COVAX has since January largely allocated doses proportionally among its 140-plus beneficiary states according to population size.
This made some richer nations that had already secured vaccines through separate deals with pharmaceutical firms eligible for COVAX doses alongside countries with no supplies at all.
With some nations administering booster shots while others are still giving first jabs to the most vulnerable, the WHO has now tweaked the rules.
“For the October supply we designed a different methodology, only covering participants with low sources of supply,” Mariangela Simao, WHO Assistant Director General for Access to Vaccines, said in a recording of a conference presentation last week posted on the WHO’s website.
The change comes 15 months after the launch of the COVAX programme and as WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus seeks renomination.
About 75 million doses of Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Sinopharm vaccines will be distributed in October to 49 countries considered among the least covered, slides from Simao’s presentation showed, without indicating the recipient nations.
COVAX has so far overseen the allotment of over 500 million shots, of which about 300 million have been shipped to recipient countries.
Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility are made possible thanks to generous contributions from over 20 countries. The top seven countries that made donations to the facility are the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Sweden, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.