ABUJA: The first batch of Oxford/AstraZenica COVID-19 vaccine doses are offloaded from a plane during its arrival at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, in Abuja.-AFP

ABUJA, Nigeria: Millions of coronavirus shots from the global Covax scheme have arrived in Nigeria, Angola and Kenya, as African countries ramp up their vaccine rollouts. Richer countries have surged ahead with vaccinations but many poorer countries are still awaiting deliveries, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn that the crisis cannot end unless everyone can inoculate their populations.

The Covax facility, run by the WHO along with health NGOs, is aiming to supply vaccines to dozens of countries in the first 100 days of 2021, and two billion doses by the end of the year. While the continent's most populous country Nigeria received almost four million jabs on Tuesday, Angola received more than 600,000 doses and DR Congo was scheduled to get a consignment later, following recent deliveries to Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Kenya received its first shipment of just over one million Covax-funded AstraZeneca/Oxford shots yesterday. However, there are still critical hurdles for the scheme's rollout in vast African countries with sketchy infrastructure and an array of security challenges-a point addressed by Faisal Shuaib, director of Nigeria's primary healthcare agency.

"States without a functional airport will have their vaccines transported by road using vans with fitted cold cabins, from the nearest airport," he said. He called the delivery-which arrived around noon in the capital Abuja-a "good day for Nigeria" and promised the rollout would begin in earnest on Friday with frontline health workers the first to be inoculated.

Nigerian official Boss Mustapha urged traditional rulers, religious leaders, civil society groups and the media to spread the message that vaccinations were needed, adding: "This is a fight for everyone." In Angola, where some healthcare workers were vaccinated shortly after the doses were offloaded, the WHO's Djamila Cabral said the arrival of vaccines brought a "stronger hope to save lives", but warned that everyone needed to continue respecting COVID restrictions to beat the pandemic.

70 percent goal

The almost four million AstraZeneca/Oxford doses received by Nigeria, made by the Serum Institute of India, are the first of 16 million shots that Covax plans to deliver over the coming months to the country of 200 million. The government said it hoped to vaccinate at least 70 percent of its adult population over the next two years and health officials said more than two million people had already registered for the jab online. "As the vaccines arrive in batches due to limited supply we will inform Nigerians about who and where to receive the vaccine," Shuaib told reporters.

Nigeria has recorded 1,915 deaths from 156,017 cases since the start of the pandemic and Angola 508 deaths from 20,854 cases-though official figures in most countries are considered to be underestimates. A new virus variant has also been discovered in Nigeria, but researchers have not yet determined if it is more contagious or deadly than the original strain.

Last week, Ghana and Ivory Coast were the first African countries to receive vaccines from Covax, an initiative led by the Gavi vaccine alliance, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) with UNICEF as implementing partner. Some 237 million AstraZeneca doses are to be delivered by the end of May to 142 participating economies, Covax says. - AFP