More than 1.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have arrived in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC. They were shipped to the country through COVAX, an alliance comprising the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) working in partnership with UNICEF as key implementing partner.
The arrival of the vaccines is an historic step towards ensuring equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. Their delivery is part of the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. The vaccines in the DRC are part of a first wave of supplies that will continue over the next few weeks.
Medical authorities have decided to use the Astra Zeneca vaccine because it meets the DRC’s existing storage conditions (between 2° and 8°C). A plan for the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccines across the country is being finalised.
The distribution is based on epidemiological data and WHO guidelines. The initial aim is to vaccinate 20 per cent of the population, including health workers (who represent 1 per cent of the population), people aged over 55 (6 per cent of the population) and people suffering from serious health conditions such as kidney disease, high blood pressure or diabetes (13 per cent of the population).
« The DRC is among the first countries in Africa to receive these vaccines, » said Health Minister Dr Eteni Longondo. The vaccinations will enable us to protect and save lives. We must encourage the target population to be vaccinated. »
The government submitted its request to the international community for COVID-19 vaccines in December. The Ministry of Health, through its Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), will carry out the vaccinations at fixed sites throughout the country.
“This is an important moment for DRC, the African continent and COVAX – we are moving closer to our common goal of ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, ” said Emmanuel Bor, Gavi Country Manager. “Gavi is delighted to see the ambition of the COVAX Facility come to fruition with this first wave of deliveries that will protect the most vulnerable, including health workers on the front line in the fight against this pandemic in DRC. ”
UNICEF is helping with the logistics of delivering the vaccines including the transport of injection materials and protection materials. The UN children’s agency will also ensure the quality and security of the cold chain and vaccine storage.
“The arrival of these vaccine doses in the DRC, which correspond to the first allocation of 6 million doses, is very encouraging news for beneficiaries who want to be vaccinated in complete safety, ” said WHO Press Officer Dr Amédée Prosper Djiguimdé. “We need to work together to prioritise those most at risk of serious illness and death in the country in order to deliver on the promise of equitable access.”
Gavi, with support from the WHO, UNICEF, and the EPI will train health personnel on the logistical aspects of providing vaccinations while raising awareness among the Congolese population before the actual vaccination process begins to operate.
The UK and American governments have meanwhile expressed their support for the vaccination scheme and their pride in supporting it financially.
“The UK is delighted that the DRC is among the first countries in the world to receive Covid-19 vaccines through the Covax initiative,” said Juliette John, Director of British Cooperation. “With a commitment of $750 million, the UK is one of the founders and main donors of COVAX. Together with our international partners, we are working with the Government of the DRC to implement the national COVID-19 vaccination programme, in particular access to health vaccines for health workers and the most vulnerable.”
U.S. Ambassador to the DRC Mike Hammer gave an equally warm response. “We welcome the arrival of vaccines against Covid-19 in the DRC,” he said. “The U.S. is working with other partners around the world to stop the devastating effects of this on both public health and the economy. As part of this commitment, President Biden announced a US$4 billion contribution to support the international COVAX initiative and the United States is proud to work alongside the DRC government and other partners to bring this vaccine of vital importance to the Congolese people.”
The European Union and its member countries are also supporting governments and partners in their efforts to prepare for this moment. They have been particularly active in working with some of the world’s poorest countries to ensure global and equitable access to vaccines against COVID-19.
“Routine vaccination will continue to take place every day in health centres so that we can continue protecting children against vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in DRC.
The first phase of vaccine introduction for the year 2021 will target the four provinces of the DRC most affected by the pandemic: Kinshasa, North Kivu, Central Kongo and Haut-Katanga.