COVID-19 vaccination: Ghana’s journey to herd immunity

BY: Doreen Andoh
A health official administering the vaccination at one of the centres in Accra
A health official administering the vaccination at one of the centres in Accra

Although the safety protocols, such as mask wearing, physical distancing and washing of hands with soap under running water, have been touted as the most effective way of breaking the transmission of COVID-19, all over the world today the use of vaccines has been identified as one of the major complementary measures.

Vaccines have been described as the most effective immune booster that helps to reduce the impact of the disease on an individual.

The Ghana Health Service (GHS) and other local and global experts have indicated that vaccination will have its maximum impact if used as a complement with other approved safety protocols.

The country has targeted to reach herd immunity by vaccinating at least 20 million out of the current estimated 30 million Ghanaians.

The challenge for Africa became access to vaccines.

To calm nerves, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in his 23rd and 24th presidential addresses to the nation on COVID-19 gave an assurance that the government would ensure that Ghanaians had access to vaccines.

He also assured the public that the government would ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines to be deployed in the country were effective and safe.

The President announced that the country was expected to receive its first consignment of the vaccines in March 2021.

He said, however, that through bilateral and multilateral means, “we are hopeful that, by the end of June, a total of 17.6 million vaccine doses would have been procured for the Ghanaian people”.

According to him, the target was to vaccinate “the entire population, with an initial target of 20 million people”.

Vaccination started

The country began its COVID-19 vaccination on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, as part of measures to stop the further spread of the disease.

This follows the arrival of the first 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Covishield, on February 24, 2021.

That made the country the first of 92 beneficiary countries to receive vaccines from the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX), according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The facility, being championed by the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI), the WHO, and other international organisations, is offering beneficiary countries a total vaccine amounting to at least 20 per cent of its population for free.

The government says the initial delivery constituted the first consignment of vaccines the country would receive.

As of August 18, 2021, a total of 1,765,050 vaccines had come into the country, out of which 1,566,450 were AstraZeneca double-schedule vaccine. 

Under the National Vaccine Deployment Plan (NVDP) for COVID-19, the government in February 2021 received the initial 600,000 doses of COVISHILED AstraZeneca under the COVAX facility.

In March, 366,850 doses of the COVISHILED AstraZeneca came in, some of which were donated by the Indian government and the African Union Commission while the rest were purchased by the government.

In March 2021, the country received Russia’s Sputnik as a donation from the United Arab Emirates.

In May 2021, a total of 350,000 COVISHILED AstraZeneca vaccines were received from the DRC under the COVAX facility.

The government on August 7, 2021 took delivery of 177,600 doses of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine and on August 17, 2021 took delivery of 249,600 doses of the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine.

Infrastructure

Speaking on the deployment, the Manager of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, said the deployment was being done within the existing healthcare infrastructure under the GHS.

He touted the country’s robust immunisation programme as one of the best in the region, with the capacity, experience and structure to efficiently carry out a COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Dr Amponsa-Achiano said with over four decades of immunisation experience, the country had been able to deploy safe and highly efficacious vaccines that had drastically reduced the national infectious disease burden.

He said the lessons learnt from the over 40 years of vaccination and the accompanying successes were enough to assure Ghanaians of a successful COVID-19 vaccination programme.

For his part, the Minister of Health, Mr Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, said the country had an existing robust vaccination system that had been given a little boost to cover the demands of COVID-19 vaccination that would be used to conduct the COVID-19 vaccination across the country.

He said the boost so far included 4,407 vaccine storage fridges, freezers and cold boxes procured to boost immunisation in the country.

The items, valued at $8 million, will enhance the country's capacity to deploy variety of vaccines with different storage (temperature) requirements, particularly for COVID-19.

The amount covers additional 18 distribution cold vans which the Ministry of Health said were on its way into the country.

The storage facilities comprise 58 ultra-low temperature vaccine freezers, 50 normal vaccine fridges, 3,000 ice pack freezers and 300 cold boxes.

Mr Agyeman-Manu said the logistics would enable the country to deploy a wide range of vaccines, irrespective of their temperature requirements, for the fight against the COVID-19 virus.

He said all vaccines, based on their characteristics, required certain strict storage and movement temperature known as cold chain requirements, right from the point of manufacturing into the syringe for it to stay efficient, safe and potent.

Storage

Mr Agyeman-Manu said until now, the country had been limited to the traditional vaccine storage facilities of temperatures between -2°C to -8°C.

"We were, therefore, restricted to vaccines that required these storage temperatures. We were restricted to AstraZeneca, Sputnik, Johnson & Johnson, etc. which offered us supply in limited quantities," Mr Agyeman-Manu said.

He also indicated that with the number of countries resorting to the same vaccines Ghana was also sourcing, it had become difficult to get adequate supply from the vaccine manufacturers.

To continue that way meant that Ghana would not be able to achieve its target of reaching herd immunity, the health minister stated.

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