Botswana secures “cheap” ASTRAZENECA vaccine

• WHO has approved vaccine for ‘poor’ countries • SA stopped distribution of the vaccine for poor efficacy • Botswana health director downplays efficacy of the vaccine

Botswana secures “cheap” ASTRAZENECA vaccine

Botswana has secured the controversial and low-priced AstraZeneca vaccine after the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently approved it for emergency use through the COVAX supply, The Business Weekly & Review has established.

COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) is a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines led by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and others. 

Announcing the approval of the disgraced vaccine for “poor countries”, the WHO said in a statement; “Today WHO listed two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, giving the green light for these vaccines to be rolled out globally through COVAX.” 

The statement added that “the vaccines are produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio (Republic of Korea) and the Serum Institute of India”. The UN health agency said it had assessed the vaccine for the COVAX Facility as part of its prerequisite for supply throughout the world.

Botswana signed the COVAX agreement in November 2020 but, but vaccination will cover only 20 percent of its population. 

The Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. Edwin Dikoloti, said the government spent USD10 million to obtain the AstraZeneca vaccines and USD2.9 million for the COVAX Facility. 

Dikoloti said apart from the COVAX Facility, Botswana placed orders with several suppliers and was expecting arrival of the vaccines soon. Botswana had secured the controversial AstraZeneca vaccine that would arrive at the end of this month, Minister Dikoloti added.

Speaking in a televised address, he said Botswana was among 180 countries waiting for COVAX supply. “We were notified that we will get the vaccine end of month,” he told the nation.

The country would roll out its vaccination programme before end of December. Unpacking the vaccination programme, Dr Dikoloti said frontline workers and essential service workers would be among the first to be vaccinated, followed by senior citizens and workers across sectors while the third phase would see vaccination of all citizens.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is being obtained inspite of proving to be less ineffective against a peculiar variant in South Africa that has spread to Botswana. Because of its poor efficacy, distribution of the vaccine has been stopped in South Africa.

Botswana’s Director of Health Services, Dr Malebogo Kebabonye, has tended to downplay the efficacy factor. “We were advised to get the AstraZeneca vaccine,” she said, adding that the SA variant was not only in Botswana but had also reached countries like Australia and the UK where the AstraZeneca vaccine was still in use. “We want to protect people against severe disease and death,” Dr Kebabonye said.

In approving the drug for “poor countries” recently, the WHO stated: “The vaccine was reviewed on 8 February by WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE), which makes recommendations for vaccines’ use in populations (i.e. recommended age groups, intervals between shots, advice for specific groups such as pregnant and lactating women). The SAGE recommended the vaccine for all age groups 18 and above.”

In 2020, AstraZeneca said the vaccine is cheaper and easier to distribute as compared to other vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. 

This is because it can be stored at a normal fridge temperatures for up to six months and its developers said this could benefit  countries in the developing world. AstraZeneca is reported to have vowed not to profit from the pandemic.