Ugandans will start receiving Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine next Monday, the Ministry of Health said yesterday after receiving the biggest consignment of the life-saving jabs.
Dr Alfred Driwale, the head of immunization programme at the ministry, told this newspaper that “Pfizer vaccination starts on Monday [next week] because we [first] want to mop up doses which are in Kampala. So that once we start vaccination with Pfizer, there is no confusion between many other doses”.
He said the vaccines will be given to priority groups, which include teachers, health workers, people who are 50 years or older, those with co-morbidities and security personnel which total around 4.8 million.
Although reports from a study by University of Oxford in June found that mixing the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines generated a robust immune response against the virus, inducing higher antibodies than the two-shot AstraZeneca-only, Dr Driwale said there will be no mixing of vaccines in Uganda — for now.
Uganda yesterday received a total of 1,674,270 doses of Pfizer, worth about $39.3m (Shs139 billion), directly donated by the government of the United States of America.
Ms Natalie E. Brown, the US Ambassador to Uganda, said they have now donated a total of 2,321,350 doses of vaccines to Uganda and other support for Covid-19 response total $111 million (Shs400 billion).
The US mission in Kampala in a statement said the tranche of 1.67 million Pfizer vaccines doses flown to Entebbe International Airport yesterday afternoon was part of 500 million doses of the vaccine that Washington has provided to 92 countries from July-September to fulfil President Joe Biden’s commitment to provide safe and effective vaccines to “super-charge” the global fights against the pandemic.
Pfizer vaccine has an efficacy of 95 per cent, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) while the World Health Organisation (WHO) rated the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine being used in the country at 63 per cent.
“Please, educate yourself and your loved ones about the importance of Covid-19 vaccines and the protection they provide,” Ambassador Brown said in a message for Ugandans.
She added: “Making an educated decision to get Covid-19 vaccine is a critical step toward protecting your health and that of your family and community because, as we know, none of us are safe until we are all safe”.
While receiving the vaccines yesterday, the State Minister for Primary Healthcare Ms Margaret Muhanga, applauded US President Joe Biden for the generous support and appealed to Ugandans to embrace Covid-19 vaccination.
She said taking the jabs is the “only way we shall open the economy when everybody in the [high risk] category, the 4.8 million people, are vaccinated”.
“Once they [the high risk groups] are vaccinated, we shall open the economy and everything including schools … we have already planned over these three months that everything must open by the first week of January [next year],” Ms Muhanga said.
Dr Diana Atwine, the Ministry of Health permanent secretary, said the vaccines will only be used in Kampala Metropolitan area – Kampala city, Wakiso and Mukono districts — because of challenges of maintaining the cold chain to keep the vaccines safe.
Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-low storage temperatures of, at -80 degrees Centigrade, to remain effective, according to information from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Mr Moses Kamabare, the general manager of National Medical Stores, told this newspaper that they have capacity to handle Pfizer or any vaccine that requires ultra-low storage temperature.
“We have enough storage for 5 million doses of -80 degree centigrade [vaccines]. Right now we only have two million [doses] which is less than half of the capacity at NMS,” he said.
The country also received 647,080 doses of Moderna Covid-19 vaccines from the US government a few weeks ago. The vaccines also require low storage temperature, according to Mr Kamabare.
Dr Atwine said they are expecting other vaccines that the government is procuring using taxpayers money.
A total of 1,777,685 doses of vaccines have so far been administered since the exercise started on March 10 and the country has now received a total of 4,474,190 doses of vaccines which include AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Moderna and Pfizer.