Ghana became the world's first recipient of free COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX initiative, with a total of 600,000 doses being delivered to the African nation on February 24.
Serum Institute of India (SII) played a key role in the supply of vaccine, as all the doses that were supplied in the first tranche were developed by the Pune-based pharmaceutical giant.
The SII has been manufacturing Covishield, the Indian variant of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. India's drug regulator had cleared the vaccine for emergency use in January.
"It's a historic moment for all of us as COVAX receives its first doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made by SII, 'Covishield'. SII will continue to be at forefront of fighting the pandemic with affordable and immunogenic vaccines," news agency ANI quoted the company's CEO Adar Poonawalla as saying.
United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the arrival of free COVAX vaccines in Ghana.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
"This is a momentous occasion, as the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines into Ghana is critical in bringing the pandemic to an end," said a joint statement issued by UNICEF representative in Ghana, Anne-Claire Dufay and WHO representative in the country, Dr Francis Kasolo.
These 600,000 COVAX vaccines are part of an initial tranche of deliveries of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine licensed to the Serum Institute, which represent part of the first wave of COVID vaccines headed to several low and middle-income countries.
"The shipments also represent the beginning of what should be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history," the statement added.
The COVAX facility plans to deliver close to 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by end of 2021. This, claimed the WHO and UNICEF representatives, is an unprecedented global effort to make sure all citizens have access to vaccines.
Ghana, which received the first tranche of free COVAX vaccines, has so far reported 80,700 coronavirus infections and 580 deaths.
Other low-income countries in Africa and other parts of the world are also scheduled to receive the free vaccines in the days to come.The COVAX initiative, launched last April, is aimed at bridging the gap between rich and poorer nations, as the latter may not be able to buy vaccines directly from the manufacturing companies.