Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein on shipment of vaccines to Ghana:

‘The start of more equitable distribution’

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Today, Ghana became the first country to receive Covid-19 vaccines from the Covax Facility. ‘This is the start of a historic global mass-vaccination effort,’ said Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein.

The first shipment of vaccines arrived in Ghana’s capital, Accra, on Wednesday 24 February. The next shipment this week will be on Friday, when Covax will deliver vaccines to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Vaccinations in these two countries are expected to begin early next week.

‘This is an important day for all of us who have been working to promote the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. Finally, vaccines will be made available to health workers and people in risk groups in low-income countries. Another reason this is important is because the pandemic cannot be controlled until enough people in all countries have received the vaccine. Today marks the beginning of the end,’ said Mr Ulstein.

Today’s shipment is the first round of vaccine distribution from Covax to specific countries. The vaccines currently being distributed are manufactured by Pfizer and AstraZeneca. The aim is to vaccinate at least 20 % of the population in 92 low-income and lower-middle-income countries by the end of 2021. The Covax Facility is a part of the ACT Accelerator global vaccine cooperation, which is co-chaired by Norway and South Africa.

‘This shows that international cooperation to promote rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines is effective. While it would have been preferable to have the rollout of vaccines to rich and poor countries take place simultaneously, it is a big breakthrough that vaccination programmes can begin in low- and middle-income countries such a short time after they were launched in rich countries,’ said Mr Ulstein. 

Countries are receiving their vaccine shipments at different times because Covax needs to ensure that each is ready to receive its deliveries and start vaccination. There are still too few vaccine doses being produced as well, which presents an additional challenge.

‘The lack of production capacity makes it difficult to provide enough vaccines. The first rollout of vaccines is a critical step, but production capacity must be increased to facilitate mass production. In addition, the pharmaceutical industry must continue to give priority to Covax in the time ahead. We are at the very start of a long road back to a normal situation,’ said Mr Ulstein.

The countries receiving the vaccines will be responsible for carrying out vaccinations themselves. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends starting with health workers, the elderly and vulnerable groups, in order to prevent serious illness and reduce deaths.

‘This will save lives and protect existing health services, which are under pressure. We must continue to ensure additional funding so that a greater proportion of the population in low-income countries is vaccinated. The redistribution of vaccines from rich countries is vital in this context,’ said Mr Ulstein. 

Background

Covax was established in 2020 to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and is a cooperative effort between Gavi, WHO and CEPI. Covax consists of two segments: 1) Covax Advance Market Commitments (Covax AMC), which works to ensure at least 20 % vaccination coverage in 92 low- and middle-income countries; and 2) self-financing participation so that countries can use Covax to enter into agreements on options and purchases of vaccines for their own use.

Norway participates in Covax by supporting Covax AMC.