COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to African nations pick up speed

COVID-19 vaccines arriving in Kenya
The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to Kenya is offloaded from a Qatar Airways flight in Nairobi, Kenya, early Wednesday.
(Associated Press)

More African countries received their long-awaited first deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday, with Kenya and Rwanda benefiting from the global COVAX initiative that aims to ensure doses for the world’s low- and middle-income nations.

African and other health officials have been frustrated with the sight of vaccines rolling out in a handful of rich countries that snapped up large amounts for themselves.

“We will be known as the continent of COVID” if Africa doesn’t quickly reach its target of vaccinating 60% of its population, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, said last week. The continent, home to 1.3 billion people, last month surpassed 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.


So far, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Angola and Congo have also received their first vaccine doses via COVAX. Several other African countries, including Mali, Senegal, Malawi and Uganda, are set to receive them this week.

But COVAX has faced delays related to the severely limited global supply of vaccine doses as well as logistical issues.

And COVAX alone will not supply Africa’s 54 countries with the doses needed to reach the target of vaccinating 60% population to achieve herd immunity. That’s why some countries such as South Africa, the hardest-hit African nation, are also pursuing COVID-19 vaccines in bilateral deals or through the African Union’s bulk-purchasing program.

China’s ‘vaccine diplomacy’ has been a surprising success: It has pledged about half a billion doses of its vaccines to more than 45 countries.

March 2, 2021

Despite the various challenges, some health officials expressed jubilation as the first vaccine doses from COVAX arrived.

“We have been fighting the pandemic with rubber bullets, but what we have acquired today is equivalent, metaphorically speaking, to bazookas and machine guns,” Kenyan Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said.

Kenya received 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. The minister said the vaccines would be administered to some 400,000 medical workers, and the rest would go to other front-line workers such as teachers and police officers.


Kenya, East Africa’s commercial hub, has more than 106,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, including more than 1,800 deaths. Many health workers for months have been disgruntled over the inadequate supply of personal protective equipment. They also say they were never paid the allowances that the government promised for the extra work and risk in combating COVID-19.

Pricing undermines Moscow’s claim that it is supplying poor countries with cheaper COVID-19 vaccines.

Feb. 25, 2021

Rwanda received 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with 102,960 Pfizer doses expected later Wednesday. The health ministry said these first doses would target front-line workers, those over 65 and people with underlying health conditions.

Rwandan Health Minister Daniel Ngamije said the country’s goal was to vaccinate 30% of the population by the end of this year, and 60% by the end of 2022.

Rwanda has recorded 19,111 coronavirus cases and 265 COVID-19 deaths.