The Ministry of Health of Ethiopia on Saturday begins vaccination of COVID-19 with a high-level national event held at Eka Kotebe COVID-19 Hospital where frontline health workers were vaccinated to mark the beginning of the vaccination campaign.
Present at the event were the Guest of Honor Excellency Dr Getahun Mekuria, Minister of Education, Excellency Dr Dereje Duguma, State Minister of Health, Dr Boureima Hama Sambo, Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Ethiopia, Athlete Commander Derartu Tulu, Kesis Tagay Tadele, Secretary General of Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia, representatives from the UN, CDC, non-governmental organizations and health workers.
Education Minister Excellency Dr Getahun Mekuria appreciated the contribution of the global community, WHO and others for their role in providing vaccines to Ethiopia through COVAX initiative. He further expressed his appreciation to the Ethiopian health professionals for their service in fighting the pandemic over the last one year, and reiterated the notable investment that government, health institutes and universities have made towards making the country self-sufficient in COVID testing and treatment. The Minister further underscored, “With the introduction of vaccines, we are now at a landmark stage in the response to COVID-19, but vaccines will be of sideline use if face masks, keeping distance and hand hygiene are not maintained,” expressing his concern that the continued reluctance in implementing those precautions would be a threat to the country’s health system, and economic and social fabrics.
Speaking at the event, WHO Representative Dr Boureima Hama Sambo said, “The arrival of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX provides an effective tool to end the acute phase of the pandemic,” adding, “To maximise the public health benefit of the vaccine, the National Vaccine Deployment Plan prioritizes the first doses for health and essential workers, and other at-risk groups.” He also urged that everyone must continue to adhere to public health measures to stop the spread of the pandemic alongside vaccine administration to achieve the best possible outcome from the vaccine introduction.
Doctors, nurses and support staff of Eka Kotebe Hospital were vaccinated, marking the national launch of the vaccination campaign. Dr Tenaye Desalegn, who was the first person to receive the vaccine at the national launch commented, “I have been working at Eka Kotebe Hospital for 10 months now caring for COVID-19 patients, always anxious, always worrying that I might myself one day contract the disease.” She added, “I am grateful for the opportunity to get vaccinated. I can now treat my patients with better assurance of my own safety as I continue to employ all prevention measures.”
The first shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccines produced by Serum Institute of India (SII) arrived in Ethiopia on 6 March 2021 through COVAX, which facilitated the procurement and shipment of the vaccines. Subsequent shipments of 5.4 million doses as part of the current global deployment plan are expected to arrive in Ethiopia by May 2021.
Excellency State Minister of Health Dr Dereje Duguma acknowledged the support of the COVAX Facility and all partners that contributed to making this day possible, bringing the whole world closer to beating the pandemic. “With the availability of vaccines, beating the pandemic can be a possibility, but that is only possible if we also implement all other COVID-19 prevention measures,” he said. “We need an all of government, all of society approach if we are to win this battle.”
Speakers at the launching ceremony all echoed the resonating message that as this milestone is celebrated, everyone must remain vigilant and strictly observe all public health measures – wearing masks, maintaining physical distance from others, keeping our hands clean and ventilating closed spaces – to prevent the spread of the disease.
The vaccination campaign was launched nationally as well as in all regions in simultaneous high-level events. As per the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NDVP) developed following the WHO Prioritizing Roadmap, frontline health workers and support staff, the elderly with underlying conditions and other high-risk groups will be prioritized for vaccination. This prioritized approach is necessary to make optimum use of the limited vaccine supplies.
The first shipment of 2.2 million vaccine doses out of the total 7.62 doses planned to be deployed to Ethiopia by May 2021 are being administered in the national launch of the vaccine introduction. Ethiopia aims to vaccinate 20% of the population by the end of 2021.
WHO, UNICEF, GAVI and CEPI are actively collaborating through the COVAX Facility and work with countries and development partners to ensure the required doses arrive in time and are administered on prioritized groups.