Rwanda first African nation to get Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

Thursday March 04 2021
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The first batch of 102,960 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccines arrive at the Kigali International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 3, 2021. AF PHOTO

By AFP

Rwanda on Wednesday became the first African country to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, with around 100,000 doses delivered in what the pharmaceutical giant hailed as a "milestone" for the continent.

The East African country received nearly 103,000 doses of the vaccine at the capital Kigali through the UN-led Covax initiative, which aims to provide equitable access to Covid-19 jabs for poorer countries.

Pfizer said the first shipment to Africa of its vaccine represented "an important milestone for the region, for Rwanda, and for the global health partners working tirelessly to fight this pandemic".

"Our goal is to make vaccines accessible worldwide and today's delivery to Rwanda is a great step forward," said Janine Small, Pfizer Global President for Emerging Markets, in a statement.

An official at Rwanda's health ministry told AFP the vaccines -- which must be kept at ultra-low temperatures -- were "immediately transported to cold room freezers" upon arrival at Kigali aboard on a KLM flight at around 2015 local time (1815 GMT).

Earlier in the day, Rwanda took separate possession of 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab, its first delivery under the Covax facility.

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The health ministry said the collective 340,000 doses would be dispatched Thursday from a biomedical warehouse in Kigali to district hospitals and onward to hundreds of health centres dotted across Rwanda. 

Vaccinations will begin Friday, with the country of 12 million planning to inoculate 30 percent of its population this year, and 60 percent by the end of 2022.

The ministry said the vaccine shipment should protect about 171,500 frontline personnel, as well as other priority citizens such as those over 65 or with underlying health conditions.

"We will immediately roll out our prepared vaccination plan, which will see target risk groups across Rwanda receive their first of two vaccine doses," Health Minister Daniel Ngamije said in a statement.

In February, Rwanda became the first country in East Africa to begin vaccinating against the disease, targeting high-risk groups such as healthcare workers after acquiring around 1,000 doses of the Moderna jab.

Rwanda has carried out more than a million coronavirus tests and detected just over 19,100 cases. As of Wednesday, 265 people had lost their lives to the disease.

It imposed some of the strictest anti-coronavirus measures on the continent, including one of Africa's first total shutdowns in March 2020. It put capital Kigali back under a full lockdown in January after a surge in cases.

Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine is based on different technology to AstraZeneca's, and is expected to be much more effective in protecting against the onset of Covid-19 when transmitted through the South African variant.

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