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Ghana Becomes 1st Country To Get COVAX Vaccine Doses

Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET

The first wave of coronavirus vaccines from the COVAX initiative are now reaching their destinations. Ghana became the first country to receive the vaccine on Wednesday, marking an important step for the international effort to help low- and middle-income countries cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the first round of allocations continues to roll out, more countries will receive their own doses in coming days, according to the World Health Organization, a leader of the initiative. In all, the COVAX alliance hopes to deliver nearly 2 billion doses of the vaccines this year.

The 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine that arrived in Ghana were produced by the Serum Institute of India. Along with the initial shipment to Accra, more deliveries are expected to arrive in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, this week, according to the WHO. The vital supplies will also include the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The shipments are the start of "what should be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history," according to a joint statement by WHO Representative to Ghana Dr. Francis Kasolo and UNICEF's representative in Ghana, Anne-Claire Dufay.

"After a year of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 80,700 Ghanaians getting infected with the virus and over 580 lost lives, the path to recovery for the people of Ghana can finally begin," Kasolo and Dufay said.

As for why Ghana, in West Africa, was chosen to receive the vaccine before other countries, a UNICEF representative told NPR that the country met conditions for receiving the vaccine. After Ghana's national deployment and vaccination plan was approved, they said, the country was added to the allocation process.

Other factors affecting when countries receive the vaccine include the speed with which they get national approval and provide an import license for the COVID-19 vaccines.

The COVAX initiative was created to boost equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, particularly for lower-income countries. Through donations, licensing and build purchases, COVAX helps those countries acquire vaccines — something they've struggled to do, as wealthy countries compete with each other to buy the limited number of vaccines worldwide.

"We will not end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Today is a major first step towards realizing our shared vision of vaccine equity, but it's just the beginning."

As the WHO's Dr. Katherine O'Brien, who directs the WHO's Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, told NPR earlier this month, "We're in a situation where we have 108 million doses of vaccine that have been distributed worldwide, but 75% of those doses have gone to just 10 countries."

For nearly all of the COVAX initiative's existence, the U.S. did not join the coalition. But President Biden has reversed that course, and the U.S. recently announced it would send some $4 billion in contributions to COVAX.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.