Ghana became the first country to receive vaccines from the global Covax scheme on Wednesday, paving the way for poorer nations to catch up with inoculation drives to stamp out the coronavirus pandemic.
But Europe’s vaccine rollout faced fresh woes after AstraZeneca said it would only be able to deliver half its promised doses to the EU, deepening ongoing tensions with the bloc oversupply shortfalls.
More than 217 million vaccine doses have been administered globally, according to an AFP tally Wednesday, though the vast majority have been given in high-income countries.
Hopes are high that the inoculations will allow the world to finally emerge from a pandemic that has killed more than 2.4 million, infected 112 million, and hammered the global economy.
But health experts have warned that unless the whole world has access to vaccines, the pandemic will not end.
The head of the World Health Organization applauded the first delivery of the Covax vaccines Wednesday with an enthusiastic tweet.
“At last!” posted WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“A day to celebrate, but it’s just the first step.”
The WHO is one of several organisations behind Covax, which aims to deliver at least two billion doses globally by the end of the year.
The 600,000 doses delivered to Ghana in a ceremony broadcast live on television are from Oxford/AstraZeneca, and will be administered in several Ghanaian cities from Tuesday.
They are part of an initial tranche of deliveries headed to several low and middle-income countries, including to Ivory Coast this week.
Covax, led by Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, the WHO, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), is seeking to ensure vaccines are equitably distributed globally.
So far, Israel, the United States, and Britain are leading in vaccine rollouts, while many poor countries have yet to receive a single jab.
– ‘Menacing’ third wave –
But as the watershed delivery was celebrated in Ghana, there was more bad news for Brussels over its scramble to secure coronavirus vaccines for the European Union.
AstraZeneca said Tuesday its EU supply chains would only be able to deliver half of an expected order of 180 million doses, but assured it would fill the gap by using its international network.
It is the latest setback for the bloc which has come under fire for its sluggish vaccine rollout.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen was locked in a war of words with AstraZeneca earlier this year after accusing the British-Swedish firm of breaking a contract by delaying vaccine deliveries.
But she struck a more affable tone Wednesday, saying she was “optimistic” about the rollout.
“New questions are always arising that we can generally resolve amicably,” she told a German newspaper, in comments published Wednesday.
Elsewhere on the continent, Hungary forged ahead with its own campaign, administering Chinese-made Sinopharm jabs in a first for the EU.
The country has criticised Brussels for its procurement problems and turned not only to China but also to Russia to secure jabs.
This month it also became the first EU nation to administer Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, in a bid to beat back rising infections and deaths.
“A third wave of the virus is menacing Hungary,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said as he announced the Chinese vaccine rollout.
Ukraine also celebrated a landmark Wednesday, giving a doctor the country’s first Covid shot after a slow start of its own that sparked widespread anger.
Meanwhile, in France, which has faced global embarrassment over its stuttering vaccination campaign rollout, the government said new regional restrictions could be imposed amid “a worsening situation”.
“Rapid and strong measures” are needed to combat spiraling infections in some French regions, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said, refusing to rule out another national lockdown.
Elsewhere in the world, there was a glimpse of normality more than a year into the pandemic as sports fans streamed into a brand new cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, India — the world’s biggest.
“I am here with my whole family for this historic moment. We have taken precautions for coronavirus by wearing masks. I hope India wins,” said an “excited” Tarun Parmar, ahead of a Test match against England.