BLANTYRE – Malawi has received its first consignment of Johnson & Johnson vaccines – a donation made by the United States under COVAX, a campaign to provide equitable access to COVID-19 shots worldwide.
The arrival of 302,000 doses comes a few weeks after Malawi announced it will start inoculating its citizens with several COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to protect more of its population amid growing infections.
Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda said the move aims to fill the gap created by the scarcity of the Britain-made AstraZeneca vaccines the country has been using.
Speaking to reporters in Lilongwe, Chiponda sought to offer reassurances that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe.
“And most of the countries in Europe, in America and indeed in Africa, have used Johnson & Johnson vaccine. And it is proven that it is indeed providing much needed immunity [against COVID-19],” said Chiponda.
Besides vaccines manufactured in the West, Malawi has also used vaccines produced in China and Russia.
This brings the number of vaccine doses the Malawi has received so far through COVAX to more than 850,000.
Jeremy Neitzke is chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Malawi.
He said the recent donation is part of the U.S. government’s global vaccine-sharing strategy, which aims to provide at least 80 million doses to countries most affected by the pandemic, including at least 25 million to African countries.
“The first tranche of U.S. government commitment to Africa is 15 million doses, of which these 300,000 are arriving today. We are working with our partners here in Malawi, the Ministry of Health, and across the continent with the African Union and the African CDC to deliver vaccines,” he said.
Health Minister Chiponda said the vaccine has given Malawi hope of reaching its target of vaccinating 60 percent of its people by December 2022.
As of now the country has only vaccinated 0.2 percent of the targeted 11 million people.
Malawi has recently faced continuous vaccine shortages largely because of huge demand as infections rise. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Ministry of Health has said that since Saturday, Malawi has confirmed 481 cases with 29 deaths. The U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the global pandemic, says Malawi currently has about 55,700 cases and 1,805 deaths.
Chiponda said Malawians should not panic as more vaccines are coming.
“Of course, we will be receiving AstraZeneca in two weeks – about 200,000 doses. And also we have in the pipeline Pfizer [372,000 doses] as well. So between now and September, we are very sure we are going to get about a million doses of different vaccines,” said Chiponda.
Separately, Chiponda said Malawi is planning to purchase 1.8 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.
The government is advising people who received one jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine not to combine it with the Johnson & Johnson shot, which is a single-dose vaccine.