News Analysis: Rwanda excels in reaching global COVID-19 vaccination target in Africa

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KIGALI, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- Rwanda is among few countries in Africa that have achieved the World Health Organization (WHO) target of vaccinating 40 percent of the entire population by December 2021.

According to the Rwandan Ministry of Health, as of Friday, a total of 7,587,808 of the targeted Rwandan population aged 12 and above, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 5,364,026 have received two doses and 111,681 have received booster shots.

Rwanda's total population is over 12.6 million, according to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR).

The small east African country has ensured that 2021 ends when at least more than 80 percent of the population aged 12 years and above receive at least one vaccine dose against the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to achieve the global vaccination target, Rwanda drew a vaccination plan prior to getting the vaccines.

The plan had a priority list of high-risk groups like the frontline workers in the health and security sectors, teachers, refugees, inmates, and people aged 65 and above, as well as those with underlying medical conditions.

On March 3, 2021, Rwanda received the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines in its capital, Kigali, through the COVAX initiative, a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The first batch of 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines was followed by the second shipment of 102,960 doses of the Pfizer vaccines.

The Rwanda health ministry dispatched them to district hospitals and then to all 508 health centers across the country.

On March 5, 2021, Rwanda launched the first phase of the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination exercise, targeting high-risk groups.

The first phase saw 350,400 people receive the first jab of COVID-19.

On May 29, Rwanda rolled out the second phase of nationwide COVID-19 vaccination following the success of the first phase.

The vaccination exercise was later extended to other groups, including people aged 60 years and above, market vendors, and commercial motorcyclists.

The country also extended the eligibility to everyone aged at least 18 and above and later on, it was extended to those aged 12 and above.

"When the coronavirus broke out in Rwanda on March 14 (in 2020), Rwandans were scared, anxious and didn't have any hope that they will be immunized against the deadly virus," said Vedaste Ndahindwa, an epidemiologist and lecturer at the School of Public Health at the University of Rwanda, told Xinhua in a telephone interview.

He added that Rwanda's response against COVID-19 is remarkable whereby the government put in much effort to ensure that citizens observe COVID-19 preventive measures.

"Mass vaccination against COVID-19 in Rwanda is a testimony of the government of Rwanda's commitment to vaccinate all Rwandan citizens against COVID-19. It's not a surprise that Rwanda had achieved the WHO target of vaccinating 40 percent of the entire population by December 2022, because the country was committed from the start," said Ndahindurwa.

From the start, Rwanda planed to vaccinate 30 percent of its population by the end of 2021 and 60 percent by the end of 2022 to achieve herd immunity against the virus and it is likely the country will surpass the end of 2022 target, following the rate at which Rwandan citizens are participating in the inoculation exercise.

"Rwanda is making steady progress in its COVID-19 vaccination rollout plan despite impediments arising from the global supply of the vaccines," Rose Mukagahizi, health reporter with Imvaho Nshya, a local media company told Xinhua.

Rwanda uses a wide range of vaccines to vaccinate citizens against COVID-19 including Sinopharm, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.

China has been supporting Rwanda's anti-coronavirus efforts since the first case was confirmed in the country.

In April, last year, China donated medical supplies to Rwanda that included protective face masks for medical use, surgical masks, disposable protective clothing, infrared thermometers, medical protective goggles, disposable sterilized rubber surgical gloves and medical isolation shoe covers.

In August, Rwanda received 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine along with syringes donated by the Chinese government, followed by the second batch of 300,000 doses of Sinopharm in November.

"Vaccinating more than 40 percent of our country's population by the end of December 2021 is a great milestone but the journey continues," Daniel Ngamije, Rwandan Minister of Health told Xinhua in a telephone interview on Thursday.

He added that Rwanda's strong leadership, partnership, coordination, community engagement and faster distribution of vaccines have played a key role in vaccinating a great number of the target population.

"The government of Rwanda is working hard to ensure that we acquire the needed vaccines and inoculate as many people as possible," said Ngamije.

"One important way, we have sought to protect Rwandans, is through comprehensive nationwide vaccination against COVID-19. So far, 80 percent of our population aged 12 years and above, have received at least one vaccine dose," said Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a televised state of the nation address on Monday.

Rwanda has also started administering COVID-19 booster shots to those who have spent three to six months after receiving the second dose.


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