The United States Government, through the COVAX Facility, has boosted the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination drive in Sierra Leone, with a donation of 113,490 doses of the Pfizer vaccines. This generous contribution from the US Government comes within a week of Sierra Leone receiving consignments of 151,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which were also supplied by the United States Government through the global COVID-19 equity scheme’s dose-sharing mechanism, COVAX.
Since March this year, the COVAX Facility has been instrumental in ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines are available in Sierra Leone to protect people at risk of the disease from falling seriously ill or dying from it. To date, more than 288,384 adults have received their first shots of a COVID-19 vaccine, while more than 69,880 have already received a second dose.
“The people of Sierra Leone are grateful to the Government and people of the United States for their unstinting support of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility. The arrival of these additional vaccines is a demonstration of the longstanding relationship between our two countries and our determination towards ending the COVID-19 pandemic. These vaccines will significantly increase our National vaccine uptake,” remarked the Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr Austin Demby.
This donation of the Pfizer vaccine is part of the United States Government’s global contribution to multilateral efforts established to address COVID-19 infections and to help end the pandemic. This contribution to Sierra Leone means more people will be able to access vaccines, especially at this moment when a second national surge vaccination exercise is being planned following the successes of the first vaccination surge in order reach more people with the COVID-19 Vaccines. The Government of Sierra Leone has extended the eligibility age of those who can be vaccinated – to date, anyone over eighteen years of age are able to be protected against COVID-19 through vaccination.
Through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Sierra Leone has also received support in COVID-19 vaccine deployment, including cold chain strengthening and social mobilization and awareness raising efforts to help create demand for the vaccines. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has worked with partners to develop training materials and performance support for COVID-19 vaccine implementation, develop workforce performance indicators, and coordinate efforts to support COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
During the handing over ceremony, U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, David Reimer, noted that “The arrival of the Pfizer vaccines today is a further testament to the United States’ commitment to standing together with the people and government of Sierra Leone to address shared global challenges”.
In addition to supporting countries with the purchase of vaccines, the COVAX Facility co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has been instrumental in supporting low- and middle-income countries with the development of national vaccination plans, enhancement of cold chain infrastructure, and provision of logistical materials and medical supplies to facilitate smooth implementation of vaccination activities.
COVAX partners such as the United States Government share their vaccines and help secure full funding for this global initiative to reach more people in need of protection across the globe.
“We are delighted to see U.S.-donated Pfizer vaccine doses arriving in Sierra Leone. COVAX is committed to ending the acute phase of the pandemic, and the strong support of the United States Government is crucial in getting us there,” said Patience Musanhu, Gavi’s Senior Country Manager for Sierra Leone.
The Pfizer vaccine is one of seven vaccines which are approved for use by the WHO in protecting people against COVID-19. Two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have been found by health experts to be effective in providing adults with the required protection from COVID-19 illness or death.
With less than two percent of eligible adults that currently fully vaccinated in Sierra Leone, these additional vaccines will help to meet urgent needs.
“We are encouraged by the accelerated efforts of the government and its different partners to vaccinate as many people as possible in order to attain the country’s vaccination target as set out in the revised National COVID-19 Response Plan. Increasing solid investments in preventive interventions including getting more people vaccinated, and intensifying awareness and adherence to the other public health measures are important in flattening the epidemic curves”, said Dr Steven V. Shongwe, WHO Representative in Sierra Leone.
As a key COVAX partner, UNICEF is leading the procurement and supply of vaccines. Further to this logistics support, UNICEF continues to support the Government of Sierra Leone’s vaccine rollout exercise particularly in planning, cold chain management, demand generation, and capacity building of health workers in effective vaccine management.
“COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been an unprecedented initiative in its scale and reach, one of the largest undertakings that UNICEF has involved globally in this year. We heartily appreciate the strong partnership built among the Government, donors and other stakeholders behind this initiative,” said UNICEF Representative, Dr. Suleiman Braimoh. “It remains a focus of our work to ensure continuity in delivery of essential services to ensure the survival, growth and development of every child, even during this period of a pandemic.”
COVAX has built a diverse portfolio of vaccines suitable for a range of settings and populations and has delivered 240 million doses to 139 countries in just six months. Its goal of delivering at least 2 billion doses of vaccine to participating countries around the globe, including at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses to the 92 lower-income COVAX Facility participants supported by the Gavi COVAX AMC, is expected to be reached in the first quarter of 2022. The United States is the largest contributor to COVAX.
Officials from the Government of Sierra Leone, U.S. Embassy, United Nations Agencies including the World Health Organization and UNICEF and several health developments partners, attended the ceremonial handover of the vaccines to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.