Malawi on Friday received the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccine donations from the Covax facility, a UN initiative to ensure Covid-19 vaccine access to the world’s most vulnerable.
The flight carrying 360 000 doses touched down at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe at 4pm.
As the Emirates cargo plane landed, government officials, diplomats and others receiving the vaccine cheered and waved Covax signs, the facility that has financed the consignment.
Officials say the consignment will immediately go to facilities that have been prepared to refrigerate the vaccine.
Then the vaccine will be distributed to all the 28 districts in the country to first support frontline health and social workers, according to Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda who was among the dignitaries that received the vaccine on Friday.
The other demographic top on the list is the elderly who are more susceptible to the pandemic and those with underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes.
According to Chiponda, there will be an official launch that may involve President Lazarus Chakwera publicly receiving the first jab.
The event, likely to be held Thursday next week, may not just be symbolic but with misconceptions about the vaccines high in the country, it will send a signal about government’s confidence in the jab.
Said Chiponda: “We are going to do a lot of awareness; we are going to engage Ministry of Information, chiefs and religious leaders to bring awareness to the people about the benefits of the vaccine.”
The second strain of the pandemic has hit the country hard but statistics show the curve is flattening; there are more recoveries and fewer fatalities. The vaccine offers hope that more Malawians will be immune to its worst effects in case of resurgence or another wave.
After a year of disruptions due to the pandemic and with more than 32 000 Malawians with the virus and over 1 000 lives lost, the path to recovery for the people of Malawi can finally begin, observed Unicef country representative Rudolf Shwenk.
Unicef is the main facilitator of the vaccine which has been procured with the European Union (EU) and member countries such as Germany being the biggest contributors to the Covax facility.
In an interview Acting Head of Delegation Aurelie Valtat said the EU was excited with the arrival of the consignment.
“The EU has put in one billion dollars. We are also supporting logistics through the European Development Bank. As the President [Lazarus Chakwera] has said, nobody is safe until everyone is safe,” she said.
Valtat confirmed the EU was currently holding talks internally on the possibility of raising support to the Covax facility to ensure more Malawians get vaccination beyond the targetted 25 percent of the population.