Sierra Leone has over the weekend received the second batch of 96,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine donated by France and delivered by UNICEF through the COVAX Facility, a partnership between the Government of Sierra Leone, CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).

This French donation to COVAX is a part of Team Europe’s broader effort to ensure equitable access to vaccines in lower- and middle-income countries.

This brings to 192,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which have been received by Sierra Leone under the COVAX facility.

The first batch of 96,000 doses was delivered on the 8th March 2021 and this helped Sierra Leone to kick start a countrywide vaccination of eligible adults, starting with the frontline workers.

The first batch of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines has been since fully utilised.

“This further donation from the COVAX Facility will help safeguard Sierra Leone’s population from the consequences of the COVID-19 virus and begin reducing barriers to saving lives and protecting livelihoods.

The Government is appreciative of the efforts made by all partners in the COVAX Facility that has made this donation possible” said Dr. Austin Demby, Minister of Health and Sanitation.

The COVAX Facility has been instrumental in supporting low and middle-income countries to receive COVID-19 vaccines and supporting governments with the development of national vaccination plans, cold chain infrastructure and related operational equipment, logistical materials and medical supplies to facilitate smooth implementation of the vaccination activities.

This first consignment of Oxford AstraZeneca received through the COVAX Facility, together with the consignment of vaccines received through other facilities, have helped reach thousands of eligible adults with the first dose and second dose of COVID-19 vaccines.

In Sierra Leone, this arrival of the new batch of vaccines is timely as the country continues responding to a third wave of COVID-19 and preparing for future eventualities.

“There is no better time than now to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to help boost our vaccination and to enhance protection against COVID-19”, said Dr Steven VelaboShongwe, World Health Organisation Representative in Sierra Leone.

“Vaccination is the most powerful weapon we have against the COVID-19 pandemic. But to win the fight against this dreaded disease we need to continue implementing the other recommended public health measures such as wearing face masks in public, hand-washing and social/physical distancing.”

In response to the recent increase in cases, the vaccination rollout in Sierra Leone has been intensified and vaccinations are now open to all adults above the age of 18 years.

The Ministry of Health and Sanitation, NACOVERC and partners have also enhanced social mobilisation efforts and media engagements to share information about the vaccine rollout and to increase public confidence on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

Within the coming months, the COVAX facility will deliver another batch of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, delivery of other types of vaccines – Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna are also in the delivery pipeline to Sierra Leone through bilateral arrangements between the Government of Sierra Leone and its partners.

“COVID-19 is still among us and that is why we welcome the global collaboration of COVAX to help make vaccines widely accessible and at no cost to the population,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative, Ms. LivElin Indreiten.

“COVID-19 vaccines, together with other safety protocols such as proper wearing of face masks, ensuring a safe physical distancing, avoiding large groups, and washing hands frequently – will help to stop this pandemic and help to see a gradual return of normal lives for us and for our children.”

COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), working in partnership with UNICEF as well as the World Bank, civil society organisations, manufacturers, and others. COVAX is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

“These vital doses of safe, effective vaccines will help protect thousands of vulnerable people against the COVID-19 wave causing so much suffering across the country,” said Patience Musanhu, Gavi’s Senior Country Manager for Sierra Leone.

“My sincere thanks to the French government for making these important vaccines available.”

COVAX has built a diverse portfolio of vaccines suitable for a range of settings and populations, and is on track to meet its goal of delivering at least 2 billion doses of vaccine to participating countries around the globe in 2021, including at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses to the 92 lower-income COVAX Facility participants supported by the Gavi COVAX AMC.

Team Europe, which brings together the European Union and its Member States, is one of the lead contributors to COVAX.

France was one of the first countries to affirm its willingness to donate safe and effective WHO approved vaccines in addition to its financial contribution.

The Chargé d’Affairesa.i. of the European Union Delegation to Sierra Leone, Mr Mario Caivano said that “Ensuring access to safe and affordable COVID-19 vaccines around the world, and notably for low and middle-income countries, is a priority for the EU.

Team Europe (the EU, its institutions and all 27 Member States) is on track to exceed its initial goal – with 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines foreseen to be shared with the countries that need them most – by the end of 2021”.

Officials from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, European Union, United Nations Agencies, World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF and several health development partners, received the consignment of the vaccine at the Lungi Airport.