We would like to call on government to expedite action on the procurement and deployment of vaccines across the country as earlier promised.

On the 31st of January and in the 23rd update on Covid-19, President Akufo-Addo assured Ghanaians that preparations were ongoing to procure 17.6m doses of Covid-19 vaccines for Ghanaians by June this year.

Subsequent to which this year’s budget estimates made an allocation of $420m for the procurement of 42 million jabs of Covid-19 vaccines targeted at vaccinating 20 million Ghanaians by year-end. Further details provided by the Health Minister through the budget estimates given to parliament allocated an average of $7.5 for the procurement of each jab and an additional $2.5 average to be used in the deployment of same. These allocations meant that Ghanaians should expect to pay $10 for each jab of Covid-19 vaccines government procures on their behalf.

But before government could spend its first dollar on Covid vaccines, Global Alliance for Vaccine Immunisation (GAVI), working in partnership with UNICEF provided vaccine aid amounting to some 600,000 jabs of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines on the 24th of February this year. This was very welcome news for a country that was struggling to secure vaccines at a time when infections and deaths from Covid-19 were on the ascendancy.

Ghanaians were informed that the first dose of Covid-19 vaccines would provide a high level of protection for about 8 weeks by which time another consignment would have arrived to ensure the administering of a second jab for persons who had already received the first jab.

It was expected that the vaccines would have arrived before the 28th of April so that those who had taken their first jabs could take their second jabs and those who had not been vaccinated would get the opportunity to be vaccinated. 

However, today is the 2nd of May and as we speak not an additional dose of AstraZeneca vaccines have arrived putting Ghanaians who had already received the first jap at risk of losing the partial immunity they have acquired through vaccination. This has the potential to make some desperate Ghanaians procure from unauthorized sources sub-standard jabs of Covid vaccines in order to extend the protections they have after taking their first jabs. 

We find it rather unfortunate that after provisions were made in this year’s budget for the procurement of vaccines and the assurance of President Akuffo-Addo, not a single vaccine has been procured by government for Ghanaians.

Contrary to government’s chorus of Ghana beyond aid, we have so far depended on aid from donor partners to vaccinate Ghanaians and it raises serious concerns about the capacity and competence of government to deliver on its promises. 

The information available points to a reallocation of 200,000 doses of Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccines by UNICEF, originally meant for the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Ghana. These vaccines we are told will expire in June this year. This means that on arrival government will have to fast-track its deployment to ensure that it does not go to waste. 

Also, government should take additional steps to ensure that the vaccines coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo or anywhere else meet all the necessary requirements in terms of safety standards and efficacy before deploying them across the country.

We know that India, a major exporter of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines is currently facing challenges with high numbers of infections and associated deaths. However, government has had almost 3 months to put in place a vaccination plan and it is rather unfortunate that such a plan should now be rendered almost ineffective because of a challenge with one supplier.

The health needs of Ghanaians must remain paramount in all considerations of this government and failure is not an option. If funding is becoming a challenge for government, it should consider partnering with the private sector in a PPP arrangement to source for these vaccines and supply them for the general public. What then becomes the essence of the allocation made in the budget government put up early this year?

Government should also provide adequate funding for medical research agencies to conduct clinical trials on the various vaccines in the country. We cannot continue to depend on generic research results on the impact of vaccines on general populations. We must conduct our own localized research in order to have country-specific results that will inform our strategy and tactical deployments.  

We, therefore, urge government to get back to the drawing board and put in place an effective plan that is not highly dependent on one manufacturer and procure the 17.6m doses of Covid-19 vaccines in order to meet the President’s June deadline.

We have noticed that after our press statement on the 25th of April this year, government has implemented a few more measures including compulsory PCR tests on the third day after arrival for travelers arriving from Covid-19 hotspots and a requirement for all arriving travelers to self-isolate for 10 days. 

Although these new measures are welcomed, the third wave of Covid-19 infections has been running rampant in several parts of the world and these measures are akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted yielding no safety guarantees at all. 

Given this development, we recommend that the government like its counterpart elsewhere must place temporarily banned flights from Covid-19 hotspot countries until the situation in those areas improves.

As stated by the American CDC, antigen tests are effective when patient viral loads are high. This implies that the antigen tests we have relied on at our airport have the propensity to yield some false negatives reducing its reliability as an effective screen against SARS-CoV-2. Due to this, some jurisdictions use real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests in order to detect patients with early exposures to Covid-19 to improve on the speed of testing. 

Ghana may therefore have imported cases of the virus which were not detected via the antigen tests at the airport putting the entire nation at risk. It is therefore incumbent on government to increase testing and provide protective equipment for our immigration officials in order to control the spread of the virus within the general population.

This risk could have been avoided if government right from the onset had instituted an antigen policy like most other countries to determine when antigen tests are sufficient screens and when to either add-on PCR tests or perform PCR tests alone to elucidate the positivity or otherwise of suspected Covid-19 patients.

The Minority, therefore demands that as a matter of urgency, government should formulate, submit copies to parliament and implement them within the next few days.

There is also currently no protocol with regards to ship crews arriving at our seaports. There are no recommended antigen or PCR tests for those individuals and considering the fact that Covid spreads in confined spaces and some of these crew members may have stayed for weeks in close quarters with others who may be infected. Government must as a matter of urgency institute a Covid-19 testing policy for ship crews in order to ensure the general safety of Ghanaians.

To conclude, it is therefore now more urgent that in the absence of vaccines and the challenges with monitoring travelers at the ports due to, in some instances, imported fake PCR test results and an over-reliance on an antigen test, government increases routine surveillance to prevent a third wave of COVID infections like we witnessed in the early part of the year.

Thank you.

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Hon. Kwabena Mintah Akandoh is MP for Juaboso & Ranking Member on the Select Committee on Health in Parliament and read the statement on behalf of the Minority.