US donates 300 000 Covid vaccines to Lesotho
LESOTHO has received a donation of 302 400 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the United States (US) government.
Donated by the Biden-Harris administration, the vaccines were handed over to Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro at the health ministry headquarters by US ambassador to Lesotho, Rebecca Gonzales, this weekend.
The 302 400 doses part of the 25 million doses that have been donated to African countries through the COVAX facility, in cooperation with the African Union (AU) and the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
The Lesotho government intends to use the new batch of vaccines to vaccinate workers who include teachers, factory workers, security agencies, civil servants, the elderly and people with comorbidities among others.
The latest batch is the country’s third after two earlier batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The two batches of 32 000 each where used to vaccinate frontline workers and people with co-morbidities.
Speaking during the vaccine handover ceremony on Friday, Dr Majoro said the government would soon start the third round of vaccinations for those who have not been vaccinated.
Despite its previous challenges that saw it failing to deliver vaccines to Africa, Dr Majoro expressed joy that COVAX had now turned a new corner and was now delivering vaccines. The World Health Organisation (WHO) initiated COVAX facility has been under fire in recent months for the glaring inequality in delivering vaccines. Critics argued that while rich countries like the US and the United Kingdom (UK) have vaccinated more than 50 percent of their respective populations, African countries had collectively only managed to vaccinate 1, 5 percent of their combined population.
And Dr Majoro said he was confident that now vaccines would be amply accessible.
“What we are seeing today is a promising process of COVAX beginning to circulate vaccines,” Dr Majoro said.
“We are happy now that they (COVAX) have started (delivering vaccines) and we hope they can sustain the momentum.”
Dr Majoro added that he has been promised an additional 108 000 doses of vaccines from the AU. The 108 000 vaccines are expected next month. Similar quantities of vaccines are expected monthly until Lesotho has secured its order of 1, 1 million of doses.
Lesotho is also expecting 260 000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by the Chinese government. Expected on 1 August 2021, the 260 000 doses will cover 130 000 people who will each get two doses.
On her part, Ambassador Gonzales said the donation embodied the continuation of the US’ global leadership in public health and the international Covid-19 response, which is critical to ending this pandemic. She said the vaccines are in addition to the $4 billion (approximately M61 billion) that the US has already committed to the COVAX facility, making the country the single largest contributor to the international response to Covid-19.
Ambassador Gonzales said the donation underscores the reality that Covid-19 remains a serious threat. She therefore, appealed to the government to ensure that the vaccine is distributed to all the 10 districts to protect the vulnerable.
“I urge the government of Lesotho to ensure the swift and equitable distribution of the vaccines across the 10 districts of Lesotho – prioritising those individuals whose underlying health conditions make them especially vulnerable,” Ms Gonzales said.
“We are all too familiar with the devastation and heartbreak of this pandemic. Many of us have lost loved ones and jobs; health systems and economies have collapsed. We need to remain vigilant, and everyone still has an important role to play – from frontline health workers in the country’s health facilities to ordinary Basotho from Tele to Mechachane. We must continue to adhere to safety precautions such as wearing a mask properly, washing our hands, and maintaining social distancing.
“Over the last year, the US government has moved swiftly to support the local response to control the spread of Covid-19 in the Kingdom of Lesotho. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the US government has contributed nearly $6 million (about M86 million) to help the Kingdom of Lesotho.
“I am humbled and so very proud to witness the handover of these 302 400 vaccine doses.”
Dr Gonzales congratulated the Health ministry for leading efforts to keep everyone safe during the challenging pandemic. She also thanked frontline workers for their courage in fighting Covid-19 as well as international partners for their efforts.