Rich countries roll out vaccines for their people, poor EA waits at back of the queue

Monday December 14 2020
Covid-19 vaccine.

Rwanda’ has placed an order and is working on the logistics.

By The EastAfrican

The majority of East African citizens will have to wait till 2022 to access the Covid-19 vaccine as the available doses (specifically Biontech-Pfizer and the Moderna) have been pre-purchased by rich countries.

This leaves the region at the mercy of the Gavi vaccine initiative — Covax, co-led by the World Health Organisation. 

While there are more than 230 Covid-19 vaccine candidates, only two are being tested in Africa — in Kenya, South Africa and Egypt, limiting options available to African countries.

Across the region, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda are planning to access the Covid-19 vaccine via the Covax initiative, which is designed to enable low-income countries to do so. 

So far Oxford’s AstraZeneca Covid- 19 vaccine remains the convenient option as it can be stored under the same cold chain storage used for other primary vaccines already in use across the region.

“Since the Covax facility will only provide 20 percent of the vaccines to the Kenyan population, we are looking at possibilities which include bilateral arrangements with developers to bridge the gap.  As it is, we stand a better chance with the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines because we are part of the clinical trials and therefore can negotiate directly with them,” Dr Patrick Amoth, acting Health Director-General told The East African.


However, access is not guaranteed, as higher-income countries participating in the Covax facility will only pay for the cost of the vaccine doses they receive.

According to Catherine Kyobutungi, an epidemiologist who is also the executive director of the African Population and Health Research Center, Africa will mostly likely receive vaccines through the Covax facility first since African countries are generally at the bottom of the queue of getting the vaccine on the open market.

“We may be looking at any time up to the end of 2022,” Ms Kyobutungi told The EastAfrican. 

Doses for lower-income economies will also be procured through the Covax facility but will be paid for via the separate financial mechanism of the Gavi Covax AMC, which will be largely funded through Official Development Assistance.

Countries will be required to share some of the costs of Covid-19 vaccines and delivery, up to $1.60 – $2 per dose – a mirror of the amount paid upfront by self-financing participants.

Under the facility three groups of people at highest risk will get priority access to Covid-19 vaccines: frontline health and social care workers; people over the age of 65; and people under 65 who have underlying health conditions.

Gavi’s path

Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the public relations officer of Uganda’s Ministry of Health says the government made an application for the vaccine through the Gavi, a vaccine alliance aimed at extending immunization to poor countries.

“We don’t apply directly to the manufacturers,” he told The EastAfrican.

Mr Ainebyoona said the government will make more communication on demand generation which entails uptake, awareness and distribution.

Rwanda’s Minister of Health Dr Daniel Ngamije, said the country has placed an order and is working on the logistics. 

Vaccines and other equipment, such as injections, will be imported from different countries. Importing them to Rwanda will not happen before March or April 2021, according to WHO Africa.

“Vaccines for the 20 percent of the population will be acquired for free. Additional vaccines will be bought in partnership with donors. We at least need 60 percent of the population to make sure the infections are halted. People will be vaccinated for free,” Dr Ngamije told the local press on Thursday. 

Tanzania said it has no plans to import any other vaccine for the global pandemic coronavirus (Covid-19); instead, the country continues with clinical testing the already said herbal remedies.  Speaking with The EastAfrican Gerald Chami, a spokesman at the Ministry of Health said, “There are no plans in place yet of importing vaccine for Covid-19, our health experts and scientists are still researching and undergoing clinical trials for the local herbs for covid-19,” when asked about the country’s plans to approve, procure, import and distribute a Covid-19 vaccine.

The country received its first shipment of Madagascar’s self-proclaimed, plant-based Covid remedy on May 8, despite warnings from the World Health Organization that its efficacy is unproven.

“It takes not less than six months to find a vaccine or cure for a certain disease. We have fared on our own since the pandemic spread, I am not sure if it is wise to have a vaccine imported and distributed to the citizens without undertaking clinical testing to approve if it is safe for our people,” added Mr Chami. 

By Berna Namata, Ange Iliza, Ian Katusiime, Elizabeth Merab and Beatrice Materu.