Winnipegger with family in Ghana happy to see country get 1st vaccines through COVAX program

A Winnipeg man who has family in Ghana says he was excited to hear the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines landed in the West African nation Wednesday.

The vaccine doses that arrived in the city of Accra, Ghana’s capital, were the first distributed by the COVAX initiative, a vaccine-sharing program by the World Health Organization.

It aims to pool funds from wealthier countries that are used not only to buy vaccines for those countries, but also to ensure low- and middle-income countries have access.

“I was very excited and quite happy that one of the developing countries was also getting involved with vaccines,” said Winnipegger Frank Indome, a board member of African Communities of Manitoba Inc. (ACOMI) who has family in Ghana.

“This is a global pandemic, and it’s not only the First World, so it’s good to know that those in power are making sure that developing nations are also getting vaccinated.”

Ghana received 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not yet been approved for use in Canada, but has been approved by several other countries.

An immunization program will start in Ghana next week that prioritizes front-line health-care workers, adults aged 60 or older, and people with underlying health conditions. Some government officials, teachers, security personnel and essential workers will also be vaccinated, the Ghanaian government said.

According to data from Ghana Health Services, there have been over 81,000 total known COVID-19 cases and 584 deaths in the nation of roughly 30 million. By comparison, Canada, with a population of roughly 37.5 million, had reported 855,132 cases and 21,807 deaths as of Wednesday.

However, infections have climbed rapidly in Ghana recently, with nearly as many dying in the first two months of this year as in the whole of 2020, Health Ministry data showed.

Indome’s 82-year-old mother, 62-year-old older brother and a younger sister, who is in her early 40s, are living in Ghana right now.

He was able to speak with his sister Wednesday afternoon. While he said she was excited about the vaccine, she was also somewhat skeptical.

“A lot of people are not sure what this means based on past issues with vaccine to the continent of Africa,” Indome said.

Historically, some drugs have been tested on people in Africa, he said, so there are some concerns the shipment of vaccine is part of human trials.

The president of Ghana and members of parliament will be getting vaccinated publicly to help build trust in the vaccine, Indome said.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which requires two doses, is pending approval from Health Canada. All the needed scientific data is before the federal agency, but it’s still looking into questions about labelling and the product monograph — the information given to medical professionals detailing how and when a vaccine should be administered, and who should receive it.

Other countries, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, have already authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine.