First COVAX vaccine shipment arrives in Ghana

Less than a year after it was first unveiled as a plan to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, the first shipments landed in a participating country today, with Ghana receiving its first doses.

In other developments, global COVID-19 cases fell for the sixth week in a row, though a few countries reported increasing activity, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday in its weekly situation report.

First wave of deliveries begins

The WHO said in a statement today that 600,000 doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived in Ghana, with more deliveries slated this week for Ivory Coast. The vaccine, recently listed for emergency use by the WHO, was produced by the Serum Institute of India. The final first round of COVAX allocations—made up of the AstraZeneca-Oxford and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines—will be published in the coming days, the WHO said.

The COVAX initiative marks the largest vaccine procurement in history, the WHO said, noting that the program's goal is to distribute at least 2 billion doses by the end of 2021. Today's shipment also came with a supply of syringes from a supply hub in Dubai run by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a COVAX program partner. Others include the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and UNICEF.

Richard Hatchett, MD, CEPI's chief executive officer, said in the statement, "Let us celebrate this as a moment of global solidarity in the struggle against the pandemic. But there is still much to do. With the increased spread of COVID-19 variants, we have entered a new and less predictable phase of the pandemic."

Seth Berkley, MD, Gavi's chief executive officer, said today's delivery puts the world a step closer to ending the pandemic. "We need governments and businesses now to recommit their support for COVAX and help us defeat this virus as quickly as possible," he said.

Cases, deaths see steady drops

In its weekly snapshot of global COVID-19 activity, the WHO said cases have fallen for 6 weeks in a row, with last week's level down 11% compared with the previous week. The drop in deaths was even more steep last week, with a 20% decline.

Regarding cases, falling disease levels in some of the highest-burden countries, such as the United States, drove much of the decline, which was felt in all but two of the WHO's six regions. The two reporting increases include the South East region, where India's cases were up 10%, and the Eastern Mediterranean region, where Iran, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates reported rising case levels.

At a media briefing today, officials from the WHO's Pan American Health Organization said cases are dropping in much of the Americas, but activity is rising in some areas, including parts of Peru near the borders with Colombia and Brazil, as well as smaller islands in the Caribbean area.

The WHO said more countries reported variant detections, with seven more reporting B117 detections, raising the total to 101, with community transmission under way in at least 45 of them. Five more reported their first B1351 cases last week, bringing the number to 51. And eight more notified the WHO of their first P1 cases, lifting the total to 29.

Other global headlines

  • German officials are concerned about lukewarm uptake of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in the initial priority groups, due to reports that its effectiveness isn't as high as earlier vaccines, according to Reuters. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, seeking to reduce hesitation, said yesterday that she would happily take the AstraZeneca vaccine or any of the others. In another German development, the country approved three home-based COVID-19 tests, which could help guide future decisions to ease the country's current lockdown.

  • In Denmark, where the B117 variant is dominant and the country is on lockdown, health officials signaled they will slowly ease restrictions in March, though they warned the steps could lead to another spike in cases, according to Reuters.

  • Israel said yesterday that it will share a small amount of its COVID-19 vaccine with Palestinian territories, Honduras, and other countries and has shared vaccine with the Czech Republic, Reuters reported.

  • The global total today rose to 112,409,584 cases, and 2,492,420 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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