COVAX vaccine lands in Ghana; with Zipline ready for last mile delivery

The first global shipment of free COVID-19 vaccines, to be distributed to low- and middle-income countries under the World Health Organisation-supported COVAX programme – have touched down at Accra International Airport in Ghana.

And Zipline drones were there to quickly whisk the doses away to the 300,000 people who needs them most.

Well; they were not exactly in attendance to start the distributions right away, but the Zips will be the transport of choice when it comes to last mile vaccine delivery in Ghana.

COVAX; fully known as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access; is a global initiative aimed at coordinating international resources to enable the equitable access of COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. The initiative is led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, or GAVI), the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and other global entities. It is one of the three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, an initiative begun in April 2020 by the world health body, the European Commission, and the government of France as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVAX is principally funded by rich Western countries, among them, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Italy and Sweden, which contributed a combined $1billion last October. On its return into the WHO after the last elections voted out the Trump Administration, the USA pledged $4billion to COVAX, to become the biggest funder of the project.

Twenty-five other countries have signed commitment agreements to the COVAX facility, including the European Union, as of February 19 this year. The scheme is also funded by private-sector and philanthropic contributions, and recipient countries may share some costs for vaccines and delivery.

Ghana received 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Picture: WHO

On February 24 this year, Ghana became the first country outside India (where the AstraZeneca vaccine was manufactured, after being developed at Oxford University in the UK) to receive 600,000 doses of the vaccine, which are set to be administered to frontline health care workers and other essential services providers in the country.

And in preparation for the eventual arrival of the vaccines, drone logistics company Zipline – which established base in Ghana in 2019 – has been sprucing up its facilities, installing cold supply chain infrastructure at its hubs at Omenako in the East of Ghana, Mpanya in the South, Vobsi in the North East and at Sefwi Wiawso to the West of the country. The hubs have the capacity to dispatch fully-autonomous Zips carrying blood, vaccines and other medical supplies to 1,000 health facilities, on-demand and around the clock.

“Being able to use every point of care in the health system to get people vaccinated – that’s the strategy here,” Zipline’s Vice President of Global Health Partnerships, Caitlin Burton said. “We’ll be sending exactly the number of doses needed – the chain of custody is very short, and the cold chain is one hundred percent guaranteed.”

Along this cold chain distribution, Zipline will be working with UPS, with whom they entered a partnership recently. The global package delivery company was on hand to transport the vaccines to the national storage facility, from where they will be taken to regional facilities across the country – again by UPS, which will also deliver the vaccines to the four Zipline hubs.

And from there, the Zips will take over the last mile delivery process.

The Covax facility is expected to ship some two billion doses to developing countries this year, which are expected to immunise around 20 percent of the populations of the 92 poorest economies in the world, who would otherwise have been at the back of the queue had they been forced into bidding wars of securing the inoculations on their own.

“We will not end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in celebrating the first shipment. “Today is a major first step towards realising our shared vision of vaccine equity, but it’s just the beginning. We still have a lot of work to do with governments and manufacturers to ensure that vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries within the first 100 days of this year.”

Dr Ghebreyesus and WHO are confident that the vaccine distributions will end the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wealthy countries have been criticised for buying up large stocks of Covid-19 vaccines, enough to immunise their populations multiple times over as they wait for different shots to pass clinical trials and be cleared by national regulators, while many low-income countries have yet to even procure the most basic numbers of vaccines for essential workers at all.

The world health body revealed last week that, of the 210 million doses administered globally thus far, over half were given in just two countries — the U.S. and China — and over 80 percent were in ten mostly high-income nations.


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