The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in South Sudan’s Juba International Airport on Thursday. The 132,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be offered first to health care workers, including doctors and nurses, along with other vulnerable groups.
South Sudan Health Minister Elizabeth Achuil said 732,000 additional doses are scheduled to arrive over the next few months through the support of the COVAX facility, a global partnership made up of a coalition that includes the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. COVAX was established to ensure that all countries can equitably access COVID-19 vaccines.
Achuil said the AstraZeneca shipment is a milestone for South Sudan.
“The COVID-19 vaccine will help us to protect our population against the COVID infections and prepare for a return to a normal life. We are grateful to all partners for their support in facilitating the arrival of the vaccines in our country,” she told reporters at Juba International Airport.
A COVID-19 vaccination campaign will kick off across the country next week, according to Hamida Lasseko, the UNICEF representative for South Sudan.
“It is very important that the government has decided to start with the health workers, who are the front-line workers, because they are the ones to be safe so as to continue with delivering health services,” Lasseko said.
German Ambassador to South Sudan Manuel Muller, who represented the donor community at Juba International Airport to receive the vaccine doses, said South Sudan is one of 140 countries that will benefit from the COVAX initiative by the end of May.
“Our goal is that everyone in the world can have access to the required vaccine. That is what we mean when we say the vaccine against COVID-19 must be a common goal. People in the developing countries also have the right to a vaccine that has been tested safely, thoroughly and transparently,” Muller said.
COVAX has secured more than 3 billion doses of vaccines that can cover at least one-third of the global population in 2021, according to Muller.
The AstraZeneca vaccine requires two doses to ensure optimal immune response against the virus. The doses will be provided on a voluntary basis and free of charge in South Sudan.
Confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine had plunged across Europe after recent reports that a small number of recipients had developed unusual blood clots amid a coronavirus wave on the continent.
In France, Germany, Italy and Spain, polling shows more people now believe the vaccine is unsafe, compared with those who think it is safe. That is a major setback to a shot that remains Europe’s best hope for saving lives.
Millions of doses have been sitting unused in refrigerators across the continent, with doctors reporting some people canceling appointments for injections over fears about side effects.
In South Sudan, health experts say people should still wear face masks and practice other preventative measures, said Dr. Fabian Ndenzako, World Health Organization representative for South Sudan.
“I would like to emphasize that if the vaccine starts to roll out around the world, they should complement, not replace, the proven public measures such as wearing masks, physical distancing, ventilation and hand hygiene, alongside robust programs to test, trace, isolate and treat,” Ndenzako told South Sudan in Focus.
More than 15 African countries received COVID-19 vaccines in recent weeks.