LESOTHO has received a consignment of 108 000 Johnson&Johnson vaccines for the ongoing fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
This the first batch of vaccines to be procured under the Sam Matekane-led private sector initiative.
Dubbed Sesiu Sa Letšoele Le Beta Poho, (unity is power), the initiative aims to procure Covid-19 vaccines to complement the free vaccines the government has received under the COVAX facility.
The COVAX facility is a fully subsidised initiative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to enable poor countries like Lesotho to get free vaccines covering 20 percent of their respective populations. Lesotho has approximately 2, 1 million people and 20 percent amounts to about 400 000 people.
This means that the country will have to procure its own vaccines for the remaining people to be vaccinated excluding those who are under the age of 16. The Ministry of Health has said those below the age of 16 will not be vaccinated due to safety concerns as the vaccines have not been tested on people in that age bracket.
Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro was on hand to receive the private sector funded vaccines at the Ministry of Health headquarters in Maseru over the weekend.
Speaking at the event, Dr Majoro said the consignment was the first of more to come. All in all, the country would receive 1, 6 million Johnson&Johnson vaccines to be procured through the African Union (AU)’s African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) initiative. These would all be paid for through Lesotho’s own cash reserves, he said.
“For every shipment that lands in Lesotho, there are so many hardworking people in Lesotho and in other countries labouring in the background to ensure that we are vaccinated,” Dr Majoro said, adding, “Basotho are very thankful for their efforts”.
He said another batch of 100 000 vaccines would be delivered to the country in the next two weeks. Therefore, the country would have to expedite the mass vaccination programme to ensure that the vaccines do not just pile up, the premier said.
“The AVATT team has also indicated that more vaccines will be allocated to Lesotho if the country utilises its vaccine stocks fast.
“In this respect, I wish to implore the Ministry of Health and its partners including the private sector to expedite the vaccination programme so that everyone in the country is fully vaccinated by Christmas,” Dr Majoro said.
Speaking at the same event, the UNICEF representative, Kimanzi Muthengi, lauded the private sector for the initiative to ensure every eligible person in the country is vaccinated. Mr Muthengi said vaccinating would save lives and allow for the full resumption of global economic activity.
“As we begin to build our lives back to normal, may this day be a reference and a show of the potential that Africa has to work together for the benefit of everyone.
“We congratulate and thank everyone who has contributed to getting this consignment of vaccines to Lesotho. We also congratulate the private sector for living up to the spirit of corporate social responsibility. They have demonstrated that they are part of the community and they are willing to contribute to the preservation of the communities they serve.
“As vaccination campaigns are rolled out, let us all continue wearing masks, washing our hands regularly, avoiding crowded places and practicing social distancing. That way we can soon win the war against this pandemic,” Mr Muthengi said.
On his part, business mogul, Mr Matekane said they were pleased that the vaccines had been delivered and they would help save many lives.
“We are grateful that the country has started receiving vaccines through this initiative because the vaccination campaign will be rolled out in the districts that were lagging behind,” Mr Matekane said.
The private sector funded vaccines are the second batch of Johnson&Johnson vaccines to be delivered to Lesotho. The first batch of 302 400 vaccines was donated late last month by the United States (US) government. The US donation enabled the government to begin the ongoing second phase of the mass vaccination programme to fight the deadly pandemic.
The first phase kicked off in March this year in Maseru with essential workers such as healthcare employees and media practitioners being jabbed with 36 000 AstraZeneca vaccines that were donated by various development partners through the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The ministry also vaccinated the elderly and those with life-threatening conditions like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
During the months of June and July, these groups received their second and final doses after another 36 000 AstraZeneca vaccines were donated by France for the second phase of the vaccination programme.
The second phase got underway a fortnight ago in Leribe, the district hardest hit by infections according to the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC).
One advantage of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine is that unlike AstraZeneca, only one jab is required. Announcing the start of the second phase of the mass vaccination programme three weeks ago, Health Minister Semano Sekatle said they would be targeting the elderly and people with terminal illnesses who could not be vaccinated during the first roll out due to limited supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccines.
Members of the security agencies, teachers, students in tertiary institutions and workers (including factory workers, mine workers, bank staffers, civil servants) as well as the general public will also be vaccinated, Mr Sekatle said.