Accra, Ghana — Ghana has become the first country in the world to receive vaccines acquired through the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative, with a delivery Wednesday of 600,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca
Ghana is among 92 low-and middle-income countries slated to receive vaccine doses for free through the COVAX program, which aims to ensure wider access to vaccines around the world. Another 90 countries and eight territories have agreed to pay to receive vaccines through COVAX.
The West African nation of 30 million has recorded 81,245 coronavirus cases and 584 deaths in the pandemic.
Now with U.S. support
In a reversal of his predecessor's U.S.-centric approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic, President Joelast week to the COVAX program to help get COVID-19 vaccines into poor and developing countries.
Mr. Biden announced up to $4 billion in U.S. funding for COVAX during a virtual summit with his fellow G7 leaders. A senior administration official said his announcement was aimed at least in part at leveraging U.S. partners around the world to bolster their own support for the initiative.
President Biden committed $2 billion in funding to COVAX up front — which is $2 billion more than the U.S. had offered under his predecessor — with a further $2 billion to be made available over the coming two years, provided other nations fulfill their own commitments to the program.
Administration officials said the money was earmarked by Congress in the December 2020 spending bill, so it would have no impact on domestic vaccination efforts in the U.S.
Why worry about the world
United Nations officials have repeatedly urged rich countries not to leave poorer ones to fend for themselves, and vaccine makers not to base their vaccine distribution on profit margins.
In an article published earlier this month, Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, the U.N. agency created in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic that tore across the world in the 1980s, decried, "a vaccine apartheid that is only serving the interests of powerful and profitable pharmaceutical corporations while costing each one of us the quickest and least harmful exit route from this crisis."
Byanyima also warned that pandemic narcissism could put rich nations' own populations — even if vaccinated — at risk of new COVID-19 outbreaks.
"The longer the virus is allowed to continue in a context of patchy immunity, the greater the chance of mutations that could render the vaccines we have and the vaccines some people in rich countries have already received, less effective or ineffective," she said.
Byanyima also cited research carried out for the International Chamber of Commerce, which suggests that delaying poor countries access to vaccines will cost money, to the tune of, "an estimated $9 trillion, with nearly half of this absorbed in wealthy countries like the United States, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom."
The COVAX initiative aims to deliver some two billion COVID-19 vaccine doses around the world by the end of this year.