Lesotho has finally received the second batch of 36 000 AstraZeneca vaccines for the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Health Minister Semano Sekatle was on hand to receive the second batch which was donated by France through the COVAX facility.
The COVAX facility is a fully subsidised initiative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to enable poor countries like Lesotho to get free vaccines covering 20 percent of their respective populations. Lesotho has approximately 2, 1 million people and 20 percent amounts to about 400 000 people.
This means that the country will have to procure its own vaccines for the remaining people to be vaccinated excluding those who are under the age of 16. The Ministry of Health has said those below the age of 16 will not be vaccinated due to safety concerns as the vaccines have not been tested on people in that age bracket.
Speaking soon after receiving the consignment from UNICEF Representative, Anurita Bains, at the ministry headquarters in Maseru, Mr Sekatle said he was relieved that the vaccines had finally been delivered. He said the government had become frustrated by the delays in the delivery of the second batch after they received the first batch in March this year.
"This second batch will be administered on all those who have already been vaccinated because the time has come for them to get their second doses," Mr Sekatle said.
He said Lesotho was expecting more vaccines from the African Union (AU) and a donation of over 100 000 vaccines from China. The arrival of more doses will enable those who are yet to be vaccinated to be jabbed.
Last week, Mr Sekatle said they would no longer be procuring AstraZeneca vaccines and they would instead source Johnson & Johnson vaccines which present less logistical challenges as people only have to be vaccinated once.
On her part, Ms Bains said the vaccines had taken longer to be delivered due to supply constraints.
"The vaccines were donated by France and this will enable us to continue with the vaccination campaign under the leadership of the health ministry.
"We are grateful to partners of COVAX for working tirelessly to ensure that countries like Lesotho have access to Covid-19 vaccines," Ms Bains said.
WHO country representative Richard Banda, who also graced the event, welcomed the donation, saying, "the sooner Basotho are vaccinated, the sooner we can ease the burden on nurses and frontline workers and ease the impact of Covid-19 on the economy and families".
"Covid-19 continues to take a heavy toll on countries and individuals. WHO will continue working together with partners to support the government in ensuring that vaccines get to all eligible people for all of us to be safe," Dr Banda said.
Lesotho received the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines on 3 March 2021. The 36 000 doses enabled the government to roll out its mass vaccination programme a week later. King Letsie III and Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro were among the first to vaccinated against the deadly virus which had infected 10 720 people and killed 316 by yesterday in Lesotho.
The vaccination campaign was then spread to essential workers such as health workers and media practitioners. The ministry also vaccinated the elderly and those with life-threatening conditions like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
The latest donation will enable these groups to receive their second and final dose of the vaccine.