Sierra Leone launched its Covid-19 immunisation campaign on Monday, with the country’s president receiving a jab during a public ceremony in the seaside capital Freetown, an AFP journalist said.
“This is a major milestone for us,” President Julius Maada Bio said during the ceremony held at his office, adding that all Sierra Leoneans should take the vaccine.
The start of the campaign comes after the West African state received 200,000 doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine in February.
Last week, Sierra Leone also received 96,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through Covax, a global vaccine distribution scheme for poor countries — just as safety concerns were beginning to be raised in European nations.
Sierra Leone’s infection rate is far below those in the West, having recorded 3,937 cases since March and 79 deaths.
But the government nonetheless imposed a nationwide curfew in January as Covid-19 cases flared.
On Monday, Sierra Leone’s Health Minister Austin Demby said that people over 70 years old will be first in line for jabs, as well government ministers and other public workers such as police officers and teachers.
However the campaign is taking place amid rising concern over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
European nations such as Germany, Italy, France, Ireland and the Netherlands have already suspended its use, for example.
Sierra Leone’s health ministry said in a statement over the weekend that the safety concerns related to a particular batch of AstraZeneca jabs, which were not delivered to the country.
Demby, the health minister, also said that both the Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines “had undergone many tests and (are) proven to be safe and effective”.
Sinopharm is 79-percent effective against COVID-19 , according to its developers, and is being deployed in other African countries such as Senegal, Algeria and Zimbabwe.