The World Health Organization's global vaccine-sharing scheme aims to get doses to the world's poorest countries.
Ghana on Wednesday became the first country to receive vaccines through the COVAX initiative with a delivery of 600,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
The shipment is part of a first wave of free deliveries headed to dozens of low- and middle-income countries under COVAX, a UN-backed scheme that aims to ensure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Immunization campaign to start next week
The shots, which were produced by the Serum Institute of India, will be used by Ghana to launch a vaccination drive on March 2.
"The first segment of the population that will receive the 600,000 doses will be health workers, adults 60 years and over, people with underlying health conditions," the government said.
The West African country of 30 million people has recorded more than 80,700 coronavirus cases and 584 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the local health authority.
First delivery hailed as 'momentous occasion'
In a joint statement, Ghana representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF described the arrival of the COVAX doses as a "momentous occasion" that will be crucial to bringing down infections.
"After a year of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic ... the path to recovery for the people of Ghana can finally begin," the statement said.
It added that the shipment marked the start of what is expected to be the world's largest procurement and supply operation in history.
COVAX is planning to deliver almost 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines around the world by the end of the year, including 1.8 billion to poorer countries at no cost to their governments.
"With the first shipment of doses, we can make good on the promise of the COVAX Facility to ensure people from less wealthy countries are not left behind in the race for life-saving vaccines," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF's executive director.
"At last!" WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet. "A day to celebrate, but it's just the first step."
COVAX is an international program led by the UN's World Health Organization, the Gavi vaccine alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI.
It was launched in June 2020 in a bid to prevent poorer nations missing out on COVID-19 vaccines as wealthier nations secured billions of doses for their populations.
(AFP, AP, Reuters)