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Rwanda looks to African Union for more Covid-19 vaccine doses

The Rwanda government has engaged the African Union (AU) on the acquisition of Covid-19 vaccines in the country’s latest efforts to secure more doses.

Hudson Kuteesa with The New Times Rwanda

The Rwanda government has engaged the African Union (AU) on the acquisition of Covid-19 vaccines in the country’s latest efforts to secure more doses.

Rwanda’s current vaccine efforts have been more leaning towards the COVAX facility—a global initiative that aims at accelerating fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for every country.

COVAX has pledged to facilitate Rwanda, and a number of other African countries under it to access the vaccines at a subsidised cost to cover 20 per cent of their respective populations.

Owing to the initiative, Rwanda is in line to get over 1.1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in the first and second quarter of 2021 from the COVAX facility.

However, Rwanda’s Ministry of Health says it is looking at AU’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) for additional vaccine doses, as it takes effort to vaccinate 60 per cent of its population.

The AVATT was established by the AU as a component in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy that was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government in August 2020.

Speaking in a virtual press conference on Thursday, February 4, Dr. Daniel Ngamije, the Minister of Health, said the country is already in touch with the AU for additional doses,

“There are mechanisms that are there to facilitate countries to have additional resources for funding vaccines. So we have already engaged with them. We submitted our dossier, so we are waiting for some positive news,” he added.

The AVATT has so far secured about 670 million vaccine doses.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has promised that it will undertake all necessary precautionary measures to ensure that people are safe while being vaccinated for Covid-19.

Rwanda is edging closer to getting its first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, after the COVAX facility named it among the four first African countries that will get the Pfizer vaccine.

The first consignment of the doses, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Africa, is expected in the country “in a matter of days”.

In a virtual press conference held on Thursday, February 4, Richard Mihigo, the Coordinator of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Unit at WHO African Region Office told media that Rwanda, along with South Africa, Cape Verde and Tunisia are on the verge of getting the Pfizer vaccine, having received an indicative allocation of doses from the COVAX initiative this week.

“We expect that these countries are going to introduce the vaccine in the next couple of days pending final regulatory agreements finalized between them and the vaccine manufacturers,” he said.

Other African countries that subscribe to the COVAX facility received indicative allocations for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not yet got WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL), and this means that they may need to wait a little longer until clearance is obtained.

The EUL is a risk-based procedure for assessing and listing unlicensed vaccines, therapeutics and in vitro diagnostics with an aim of expediting the availability of these products to people affected by a public health emergency.

The Pfizer vaccine has already been given the EUL by the WHO.

Within this month, Rwanda is expected to receive 102,960 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Speaking about the development, Dr. Ngamije allayed safety concerns about the vaccines.

“We were able to meet all the tough requirements (to qualify for the vaccine). These include planning and mobilisation of resources,  regulatory requirement, service delivery and monitoring of the system,” he said.

He also said that efforts are in place to sensitize people about the Covid-19 vaccine. This is in addition to the work being done to talk to medics about the vaccine.

When the vaccine comes, the first doses will benefit people at high risk of the virus, for example, front-line workers in healthcare and people above 65.

Others to benefit are those whose immunity can be easily compromised like those with cancer, diabetes, HIV and other serious diseases.

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