The Gambia has received its first shipment of 36,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility, less than a week after the Ministry of Health submitted the required documentation for the delivery of the vaccines to the country.

The AstraZeneca vaccines were shipped by UNICEF on behalf of COVAX, from the Serum Institute of India (SII), and arrived at the Banjul International Airport late Tuesday night.  More shipments of COVID-19 vaccines and syringes are expected in the coming weeks.  With the arrival of this consignment, The Gambia joins other African countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Angola, to recently receive COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX Facility.

“This is a historic and momentous occasion for The Gambia,” said Dr. Ahmadou Lamin Samateh, the Minister of Health of The Gambia. “Now that both the syringes and vaccines are here, we are expediting our plans to ensure that vaccination of health care workers, those with underlying medical conditions, and elderly people of 65 years and above kicks off soon. I must reiterate that the Government of The Gambia only accepts vaccines that are safe and effective, and these vaccines have passed the test.”

COVAX is a global initiative co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside key implementing partner UNICEF, working to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries.

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“Today, we have made history, reaffirmed our commitment to vaccine equity, and delivered on our promise to leave no one behind,” said Gordon Jonathan Lewis, UNICEF The Gambia Representative. “By delivering these vaccines, we have taken a giant leap towards recovery for the hundreds of thousands of children and their families affected by the pandemic in this country.  We look forward to working with the Ministry of Health, WHO and other key partners to support the fast roll-out of a landmark immunization campaign.”

Over the past several weeks, COVAX partners have been supporting the Ministry of Health of The Gambia to prepare for this moment, including the shipment of 37,500 syringes and 375 safety boxes for their disposal, and assisting with the development of the national deployment and vaccination plan that includes other priorities such as training of vaccinators, cold chain assessment and risk communication and community engagement.

“The arrival of the first shipment of vaccines under the COVAX Facility represents tremendous hope for all of us,” said Dr Desta Alamerew Tiruneh, World Health Organization Representative to The Gambia. “These vaccines have been given Emergency Use Listing by the World Health Organization and are considered safe and efficacious for use by the population after going through rigorous scientific and regulatory scrutiny, including trials on tens of thousands of people. We look forward to exciting times as the rollout begins and prepare for the challenge to ensure everyone is protected from COVID-19.” (Press Release by MoH, UNICEF and WHO)