Kinshasa — More than 1.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have arrived in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. They were shipped to the country through COVAX, an alliance comprising the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) working in partnership with UNICEF as key implementing partner.
The arrival of the vaccines is an historic step towards ensuring equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. Their delivery is part of the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. The vaccines in the DRC are part of a first wave of supplies that will continue over the next few weeks.
Medical authorities have decided to use the Astra Zeneca vaccine because it meets the DRC's existing storage conditions (between 2° and 8°C). A plan for the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccines across the country is being finalised.
The distribution is based on epidemiological data and WHO guidelines. The initial aim is to vaccinate 20 per cent of the population, including health workers (who represent 1 per cent of the population), people aged over 55 (6 per cent of the population) and people suffering from serious health conditions such as kidney disease, high blood pressure or diabetes (13 per cent of the population).
« The DRC is among the first countries in Africa to receive these vaccines, » said Health Minister Dr Eteni Longondo. The vaccinations will enable us to protect and save lives. We must encourage the target population to be vaccinated. »
The government submitted its request to the international community for COVID-19 vaccines in December. The Ministry of Health, through its Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), will carry out the vaccinations at fixed sites throughout the country.
"This is an important moment for DRC, the African continent and COVAX - we are moving closer to our common goal of ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, " said Emmanuel Bor, Gavi Country Manager. "Gavi is delighted to see the ambition of the COVAX Facility come to fruition with this first wave of deliveries that will protect the most vulnerable, including health workers on the front line in the fight against this pandemic in DRC. "
UNICEF is helping with the logistics of delivering the vaccines including the transport of injection materials and protection materials. The UN children's agency will also ensure the quality and security of the cold chain and vaccine storage.
"The arrival of these vaccine doses in the DRC, which correspond to the first allocation of 6 million doses, is very encouraging news for beneficiaries who want to be vaccinated in complete safety, " said WHO Press Officer Dr Amédée Prosper Djiguimdé. "We need to work together to prioritise those most at risk of serious illness and death in the country in order to deliver on the promise of equitable access."
Gavi, with support from the WHO, UNICEF, and the EPI will train health personnel on the logistical aspects of providing vaccinations while raising awareness among the Congolese population before the actual vaccination process begins to operate.
The UK and American governments have meanwhile expressed their support for the vaccination scheme and their pride in supporting it financially.
"The UK is delighted that the DRC is among the first countries in the world to receive Covid-19 vaccines through the Covax initiative," said Juliette John, Director of British Cooperation. "With a commitment of $750 million, the UK is one of the founders and main donors of COVAX. Together with our international partners, we are working with the Government of the DRC to implement the national COVID-19 vaccination programme, in particular access to health vaccines for health workers and the most vulnerable."
U.S. Ambassador to the DRC Mike Hammer gave an equally warm response. "We welcome the arrival of vaccines against Covid-19 in the DRC," he said. "The U.S. is working with other partners around the world to stop the devastating effects of this on both public health and the economy. As part of this commitment, President Biden announced a US$4 billion contribution to support the international COVAX initiative and the United States is proud to work alongside the DRC government and other partners to bring this vaccine of vital importance to the Congolese people."
The European Union and its member countries are also supporting governments and partners in their efforts to prepare for this moment. They have been particularly active in working with some of the world's poorest countries to ensure global and equitable access to vaccines against COVID-19.
"Routine vaccination will continue to take place every day in health centres so that we can continue protecting children against vaccine-preventable diseases," said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in DRC.
The first phase of vaccine introduction for the year 2021 will target the four provinces of the DRC most affected by the pandemic: Kinshasa, North Kivu, Central Kongo and Haut-Katanga.
Note for editors
The list of pledges made by donors to Gavi COVAX AMC is available here.
The interactive ACT Accelerator Funding Tracker, which includes the details of COVAX funding, is available here.
COVAX, the vaccine pillar of the COVID-19 Tool Accelerator (ACT), is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) and the World Health Organization (WHO) - working in partnership with vaccine manufacturers in developed and developing countries, as well as UNICEF, the World Bank, and others. It is the only global initiative that works with governments and manufacturers to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide for both high- and low-income countries.
The CEPI focuses on COVAX vaccine research and a development portfolio: it invests in the research and development of various promising vaccine candidates, with the aim of supporting the development of three safe and effective vaccines that can be made available to countries participating in the COVAX mechanism. As part of this work, CEPI has obtained the right of first refusal for about 1 billion doses for the COVAX facility. It has made strategic investments in vaccine manufacturing, including reserving the capacity to manufacture COVAX vaccine doses in a network of facilities and securing glass vials to hold 2 billion doses of vaccine. CEPI is also investing in the "next generation" of candidate vaccines, which will give the world additional options to control COVID-19 in the future.
Gavi focuses on the procurement and delivery of COVAX: it coordinates the design, implementation and administration of the COVAX installation and the Gavi AMC COVAX and works with its Alliance partners, UNICEF and WHO, as well as governments, on the preparation and delivery of doses in different countries. The COVAX facility is the COVID-19 global vaccine pooling mechanism through which COVAX will ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for 190 participating economies, using an allocation framework formulated by WHO. To achieve this, the COVAX mechanism will pool the purchasing power of participating economies and provide volume guarantees for a range of promising candidate vaccines. The Gavi AMC COVAX is the financing mechanism that will support the participation of 92 low- and middle-income countries in the facility, providing access to safe and effective donor-funded doses of vaccines. Gavi raises funds for the COVAX AMC and finances the purchase of vaccines by UNICEF and the work of partners and governments in vaccine preparation and delivery, including support for cold chain equipment, technical assistance, syringes, vehicles and other aspects of the highly complex logistical operation of delivery. UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) will act as procurement coordinators for the COVAX centre, assisting in the delivery of vaccines to COVAX AMC participants and others.
The WHO plays multiple roles within COVAX: it provides guidance on policy, regulation, safety, R&D, vaccine allocation, and vaccine preparation and supply to countries. Its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization develops evidence-based immunization policy recommendations. Its Emergency Use Listing (EUL) and pre-qualification programmes ensure harmonised review and authorisation between member states. It provides global coordination and support to member states in monitoring vaccine safety. It has developed the target product profiles for COVID-19 vaccines and ensures technical coordination of R&D. WHO leads, together with UNICEF, the support to countries preparing to receive and administer vaccines. The Country Readiness and Delivery (CRD) work area includes Gavi and many other partners working at global, regional and country levels to provide tools, advice, monitoring and technical assistance in the field for planning and deployment of the vaccines. Together with COVAX's partners, WHO is also developing a no-fault compensation system within the framework of time-limited compensation and liability commitments.
UNICEF draws on its experience as the world's largest purchaser of vaccines and works with manufacturers and partners to purchase of COVID-19 vaccine doses, as well as freight, logistics and storage. UNICEF already procures more than 2 billion doses of vaccines per year for routine immunization and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries. In collaboration with the PAHO Revolving Fund, UNICEF is leading efforts to procure and supply doses of COVID-19 vaccine for COVAX. In addition, UNICEF, Gavi and WHO are working with governments around the clock to ensure that countries are ready to receive the vaccines, with appropriate cold chain equipment in place and health workers trained to administer them. UNICEF also plays a leading role in efforts to build confidence in vaccines, providing communication on vaccine confidence and tracking and addressing misinformation around the world.