Malawi starts vaccination drive with AstraZeneca from COVAX

A woman receives an AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at Ndirande Health Centre in Blantyre Malawi, Monday, March 29, 2021. Malawi is vaccinating health care workers, elderly and those with health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19, using the AstraZeneca doses that arrived early in March. (AP Photo/Thoko Chikondi)
A woman receives an AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at Ndirande Health Centre in Blantyre Malawi, Monday, March 29, 2021. Malawi is vaccinating health care workers, elderly and those with health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19, using the AstraZeneca doses that arrived early in March. (AP Photo/Thoko Chikondi)

Malawi has launched its vaccine drive with 360,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine that it received through the global COVAX initiative, which aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to vaccines.

Health care workers, the elderly and those with health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 are among the first groups to receive vaccinations.

People are lining up to get the jabs at hospitals and clinics in Blantyre, the southern African country’s largest city, in the first phase of the inoculation drive.

Malawi aims to vaccinate about 11 million people of its population of 19 million.

The country has recorded a cumulative total of 33,525 cases of COVID-19 including 1,116 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thaddeus Wright Metera, 63, says he is delighted to be among the first in Malawi to receive the potentially lifesaving jab.

Working as a data processing assistant at Malawi Council for the Handicapped for 18 years ( since February 3, 2003) Metera said he stepped up to get a jab.

“Persons with disability face strength challenges in their bodies. If this pandemic infects us, I realized it will be a challenge and as such, I thought of coming to receive this vaccine so that I am protected,” said Metera. “I meet a lot of people including parents of children with disability. I am the first person they meet at the institution and that puts me at a risk to COVID-19. As such, I am so delighted to get the vaccine.”

Many Malawians, like Metera, are enthusiastic to get the AstraZeneca shots, although nearby South Africa scrapped its use of the vaccine because a small, preliminary test showed that it was relatively ineffective in protecting against mild to moderate forms of COVID-19 caused by the variant dominant in South Africa. It is not known how much that variant has spread in Malawi.

Many African nations planned to use the AstraZeneca vaccine because it was affordable and it can be kept in ordinary refrigerators. The COVAX initiative had planned to distribute hundreds of millions of AstraZeneca vaccines across Africa. But the continued rollout of the vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India has been delayed.

COVAX has shipped some 31 million doses to roughly 60 countries in recent weeks and had previously announced plans to ship 237 million AstraZeneca doses by the end of May, part of plans to deploy some 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines worldwide this year.

Malawi must acquire millions of more vaccines to reach its goal of inoculating 60% of its population. The country will also have to launch a vaccination campaign that will reach into its rural areas, where a majority of its people live.

Malawi Secretary for Health Dr. Charles Mwansambo said the government is trying everything possible to get enough vaccines to inoculate more than the 20% planned for the first phase.

“For us, as a nation to be adequately protected, 20% is not enough. So, we are looking at getting that number to 60% of the population so that we get herd immunity,” he said. “So as a country we are planning to immunize 11 million people so that we can get adequate protection so that everybody should be adequately protected.”