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Uganda, Africa awaits CoviShield vaccine from India

Vials ready to store the new CoviShield vaccine from India

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT, URN & XINHUA | When the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) VG Somani on Sunday approved the Oxford coronavirus vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin for “restricted use”, the clapping and cheering that followed could be heard in nearly all the capital cities of Africa, including Kampala.

“Happy new year, everyone! All the risks Serum Institute India took with stockpiling the vaccine, have finally paid off. COVISHIELD, India’s first COVID-19 vaccine is approved, safe, effective and ready to roll-out in the coming weeks,” said CEO of the company Adar Poonawalla, 39, on Sunday.

Health officials across Africa are eyeing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (manufactured in India as CovidShield) which is already in use in the United Kingdom.

Uganda, according to Ministry of Health permanent secretary Dr Diana Atwine , has already ordered two million doses of CovidShield that will first be given to vulnerable persons and frontline health workers. The vaccine is expected to arrive in March.

“Based on the evidence available and the recommendations of the Vaccines Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health, Uganda will access the vaccine from AstraZeneca,” the statement issued from the Health Ministry says.

So far, Uganda has registered 35,922 cases, a total of 12,307 recoveries and 274  deaths since the index case was reported on March 21.

GAVI and COVAX to the rescue

Since most developing countries cannot compete on an open market for the COVID-19 vaccines,  World Health Organization have planned joint purchases for these nations in an initiative that also has vaccines alliance GAVI and CEPI-  Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations –  a global coalition to fight epidemics

This is supported by funds from wealthy nations in a program dubbed COVAX, one of three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator that focusses on developing a COVID-19 vaccine.

It is seen as the only global solution to the pandemic which will ensure that people in all corners of the world will get access to COVID-19 vaccines once they are available, regardless of their wealth.

A total of 156 economies representing nearly two-thirds of the world’s population have joined the COVAX Facility. This includes 64 higher-income economies, which are self-financing in procuring COVID-19 vaccines once available, and 92 low- and middle-income economies eligible for support for the procurement of vaccines through the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) coordinated by the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a financing instrument aimed at supporting the procurement of vaccines for these countries

According to The Serum Institute’s Adar Poonawalla, the export of vaccines to COVAX will likely begin in March after the Indian market is well catered for.  He acknowledged that the company would have to balance distribution of vaccines between India and COVAX.

“We can’t vaccinate everybody right now. We can prioritize,” he said.

He said the first 100 million doses of the vaccine were being sold to the Indian government at a “special price” of 200 rupees ($2.74) per dose, after which prices would be higher. The vaccine will be sold on the private market at 1,000 rupees ($13.68) per dose.

Poonawalla said his company was planning to give 200 to 300 million doses of the vaccine to COVAX by December 2021.

Poonawalla said that even if all the plans by different global vaccine manufacturers were to succeed, he still anticipates a global shortage for coronavirus vaccines over the next year.

Currently, CEPI is leading COVAX vaccine research and development work, which aims to develop at least three safe and effective vaccines.

Nine candidate vaccines are being supported by CEPI, eight of which are in clinical trials. COVAX’s core aim is to have 2 billion vaccine doses available by the end of 2021.

FILE PHOTO: Modi’s India delegation in a meeting 2018 with hosts Uganda led by President Yoweri Museveni. India is likely to supply Africa with their first vaccines under the COVAX intitiative

Is Uganda ready for the vaccine?

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which is already in use in the United Kingdom is from a weakened version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus) from chimpanzees. Research shows that when the vaccine is injected into a patient, it prompts the immune system to start making antibodies and primes it to attack any coronavirus infection.

According to Dr Alfred Driwale who heads the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunisation (UNEPI) at the Ministry of Health (MOH),  Uganda has already shared details required like capacity to store the vaccine, the number of people planned to have access to the drug immediately and the readiness by the National Drug Authority (NDA) to have it quickly green-lighted through the approval processes.

Atwine says that on top of this, Uganda will also explore other traditional vaccine options such as the one from China when they receive approval from the World Health Organization. The Chinese vaccine which has not yet undergone any peer review is supposed to work by exposing the body’s immune system to particles of the coronavirus that have been grown in a laboratory and are not able to cause the disease.

Last month, the health ministry authorized the importation of 4,000 doses of the Chinese vaccine that were to be used by members of the Chinese community working in the Liao Shen Industrial Park Kapeeka. The effects of the vaccine are still unknown.

Apart from the government, also private companies in Uganda have started sealing deals with global pharmaceuticals booking for access partnerships. One of such companies is the Lugogo based Abacus Pharma where it’s Executive Director Rajaram Sankaram told URN they are already in talks with Russian Authorities to be able to distribute their vaccine in Uganda.

However, Driwale says all private companies that will seek to be involved in the distribution of any COVID-19 vaccine will have to first go through quality screening by the Ministry of Health.

Driwale says once the vaccine is available, then they will discuss a formula for distribution.

( See how India is ready for vaccine manufacture NEXT PAGE or click here)

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