MASERU – The country’s COVID-19 vaccination plan will rely heavily on donations, Public Eye has learnt.
Government still has not availed any money towards procurement of the COVID-19 vaccination but has cited procurement of vaccines through COVAX facility- an initiative by World Health Organization (WHO) to supply poorer countries with free vaccines
The facility will contribute vaccines that will cover 20 percent of the total population eligible for vaccination. It has now emerged that the fully subsidized vaccines (COVAX) will now be backed by additional vaccines from the African Union (AU). National COVID-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) this week announced that it has requested assistance from AU as part of its efforts to have the population vaccinated.
Ministry of Health’s Head of Family Health Services, Dr Rakhoasa Ranyali, revealed during a virtual media briefing by NACOSEC that Lesotho on February 15 finalized an application with the AU to have it contribute more doses towards the country’s vaccination plan.
If approved, Lesotho will get vaccines which will cover 40 percent of its population. They will be in addition to the doses also expected from the COVAX facility. “We have made an application with the AU to have more vaccines to cover part of our population, we are yet to get a response but we finalized the process on the 15th,” she said.
Financed Minister, Thabo Sofonea, this week tabled the country’s budget estimates and allocated no money towards procurement of the vaccines and instead maintained that “Lesotho will access the COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX facility.”
This is despite Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro’s earlier announcement that government would set-aside over M200 million towards procurement of the vaccine. Sofonea did not commit any money and made no reference of Majoro’s M240 million commitment to procure vaccines. Instead, the finance minister bemoaned global shortage of vaccines and informed parliament that vaccines will be received in phases.
“This House will note that there is a minimal supply of the COVID-19 vaccine globally hence its shipment is expected in phases, Efforts to exceed the 20 percent coverage of our population requires cost sharing with the COVAX facility for supplementary doses as opposed to that which is fully subsidized by the COVAX donors,” Sofonea told parliament.
While it has been previously reported that the first batch of vaccines will arrive in April, NACOSEC says vaccine will arrive at an earlier date. Dr Ranyali explained during the media briefing that the facility (COVAX) has fast tracked the process and therefore vaccines will received as early as end of the month or sometime in March.
She reiterated government’s stance that health care workers will be the first in line to get vaccinated when the doses eventually arrive. They will be joined by vulnerable people such as individuals with chronic diseases and people above the age of 60. In the second face of the vaccination, factory workers, miners, security services agents, teachers as well as students will be among those to receive the vaccine. However, Lesotho is still uncertain about the coronavirus variants detected among its people raising concerns weather the vaccines to be secured will be effective.
A South African study has recently revealed that the AstraZeneca vaccine is less effective against 501.V2 – a variant first detected in South Africa. This prompted the country to suspend its vaccination after securing a million doses of the vaccine. The country on Wednesday launched its vaccination now with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine found to be effective against the virus.
NACOSEC said samples have already been sent to a South African laboratory for genomic sequencing, a process done to detect and identify variants prevalent in the country. It is believed that because of the geographic location and social interactions, the SA variant might also be prevalent in the country. Nonetheless, Lesotho is set to receive AstraZeneca from COVAX while AU is said to have a variety – AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.