The nation’s plan toward achieving herd immunity by immunising at least 20 million people against COVID-19 by the end of this year is doable despite existing hiccups that have seen only 1 million doses of vaccine dispensed since the first week of March 2021, Head of the National Immunisation Programme at the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr. Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, has told the B&FT.
Herd immunity, also known as ‘population immunity’, is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.
Government is also working to procure some of the vaccines from Russia, the Sputnik-V, toward reaching 20 million people or 60 percent herd immunity for the population.
His comments come on the back of growing anxiety among the public, as government seems to be struggling to obtain the intended number of vaccines it needs to achieve herd immunity.
One of the nation’s challenges currently is the inability of the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) to meet its timelines as stipulated for the distribution of vaccines to the country.
After receiving some 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India (Covishield) in late February, another consignment is yet to come. Meanwhile, other stakeholders through bilateral, multilateral and private entities are being engaged by government to support the supply of vaccines to the nation.
This challenge is said to be born out of the zeal of countries producing the vaccines to take care of themselves before exporting to other nations. “There is a lot of vaccine nationalism now, but eventually they will all understand that until a high number of the world population gets immunised no one is safe – and from there they will apportion the vaccines appropriately to ensure that herd immunity is not only achieved in a country but globally,” Dr. Amponsa-Achiano said.
He is confident that COVAX will meet its target, but not on the timelines stipulated from the word go. He further explained that COVAX expects vaccines from India to distribute to all the countries which have signed onto it – but the lack of supply is what has affected the timelines, as India is producing to vaccinate its own people.
But from the experience of Israel, where they opted to buy a dose for about US$40 – way above market price – countries are aware of the fact that financial commitment is key to ensuring the early receipt of vaccines. Israel, through this means, has been able to vaccinate over 60 percent of its population.
Achieving herd immunity
Dr. Amponsa-Achiano noted that the challenge of not getting access to the vaccine is the major headache at the moment, and the mechanism for vaccination is set and ready to be activated anytime.
“The only limiting factor now is availability of vaccines, otherwise we do achieve 6 million vaccinations in six days. When we did Yellow Fever vaccination in October 2020, we delivered 6 million doses in a week. If we have the vaccines, we can cover 32 million in two or three months.
“We have not done this once but multiple times. In 2013 we did 42 percent of the population in seven days for measles. The real test is in getting the vaccines.”
He explained that the potency of a COVID-19 vaccine dose is expected to last between 6-11 months, on which the second dose booster is given. Therefore, persons who have taken the first dose should rest assured that they will get the second in due time.
He mentioned that there is a huge financial responsibility on government for purchasing the vaccines, but together with development partners enough money has been allocated for purchasing vaccines if need be.
He assured the public that a lot of effort is being put into getting vaccines, and therefore: “People should not be unnecessarily apprehensive. COVAX has a challenge, but COVAX is not the only avenue for vaccines. The nation is trying as much as possible to do negotiations with the manufacturers, and once that is successful the programme will continue”.