Ghana has become the first country in the world to receive COVID-19 vaccine doses through the COVAX Facility, an initiative designed to combat vaccine nationalism and ensure the vaccines are reaching everyone, everywhere.
The country received 600,000 doses on Wednesday, provided by the Serum Institute of India (SII), with the vaccines landing in Accra. The first recipients for the vaccine will be health care workers, people over the age of 60, people living with underlying health conditions, and senior officials.
Ghana, with a population of 30 million, has said it's planning on vaccinating 20 million people, starting from the first week of March. It was chosen as the first country to receive the vaccine due to a pledge for quick distribution, with neighboring Côte d'Ivoire reportedly the next country in the list. The country has recorded more than 80,000 cases and over 500 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which leads the COVAX initiative, said in a joint statement with UNICEF that this was "a momentous occasion", adding that the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines into Ghana "is critical in bringing the pandemic to an end."
"The only way out of this crisis is to ensure that vaccinations are available for all," the statement continued. "Vaccines save lives. As health workers and other frontline staff are vaccinated, we will be able to gradually see a return to normalcy, including better access to health, education, and protection services."
The country will be rolling out the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that was produced by the SII, and has been approved by the WHO.
The purpose behind the implementation of the COVAX Facility is to ensure that there is fair vaccine access around the world, called vaccine equity, and to close the divide between rich and poor countries, many of which have been unable to secure doses of the vaccine.
The program is aiming to inoculate 20% of people from the poorest countries in the world before the end of 2021, which means delivering 2 billion doses. The African Union (AU) was able to secure 700 million doses of the vaccine from the COVAX Facility, in hopes to vaccinate 60% of the African continent in the next two to three years.
Around the world, high-income countries have been buying up vast supplies of the vaccines — known as vaccine nationalism — and in some cases have bought enough vaccines for their populations several times over.
Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa's president and former chair of the African Union, has strongly criticized rich countries for hoarding vaccines.
“The rich countries of the world went out and acquired large doses of vaccines from the developers and manufacturers of these vaccines,” he said. “Some countries went beyond and acquired four times what their population needs, and that was aimed at hoarding these vaccines.”
Countries like France, the UK, and Norway have so far committed to share surplus vaccine doses with poorer countries, with France pledging to distribute these vaccines as soon as possible.