Laos today received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine doses through the COVAX facility, a partnership between the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The shipment consists of 132,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), and was shipped by air to the Wattay International Airport in Vientiane from Pune, India. This batch of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines is the first of the total of 480,000 doses being planned for delivery to Lao PDR via the COVAX initiative this year to cover about 20 percent of the total population.
“I would like to extend my warmest gratitude to the COVAX facility and our partners, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO, for their tremendous and valuable support in procuring this latest batch of COVID-19 vaccines. With the arrival of this shipment of vaccines, Lao PDR takes another step forward in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic,” remarked H.E. Associate Professor Dr. Bounkong Syhavong, Minister of Health.
According to the country’s National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NVDP), this initial batch of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines will be used by the Government of Lao PDR to first immunize priority groups in the country who are at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 and those who are most likely to develop severe symptoms from the infection. This includes frontline healthcare workers, older adults above the age of 60, and people with underlying health conditions. Some essential workers will also be prioritized based on the nature of the job and high-risk of exposure to COVID-19 such as workers at points of entry and in quarantine centers.
In addition to the vaccines, Lao PDR received yesterday 84,000 syringes and 840 safety boxes as well procured by UNICEF, which will enable the Government of Lao PDR to commence its vaccination campaign targeting these priority groups.
“This is a landmark moment for Lao PDR and the COVAX Facility’s mission to help end the acute phase of the pandemic by enabling equitable access to these vaccines across the world,” stated Ms. Véronique Maeva Fages, Senior Country Manager for Country Programmes at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “We would like to congratulate the Government of Lao PDR for their inspiring leadership and their commitment to protecting the Lao people during this pandemic. Gavi looks forward to these vaccines being made available to the people most at risk, as soon as possible,” Ms. Fages further added.
Producing a vaccine against a previously unknown disease in less than a year is a major achievement for medical science globally. And making sure that every country in the world has fair and equitable access to vaccines through the COVAX facility is also an extremely important breakthrough.
“The arrival of the vaccines provided by the COVAX Facility is a game-changer for Lao PDR’s ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and shows what is possible when there is a spirit of solidarity among the international community to collectively address this common threat. These COVID-19 vaccines have been carefully reviewed by WHO and assessed for quality, safety and efficacy; we are so pleased that Lao PDR has access to these vaccines just one month following their Emergency Use Listing (EUL) by WHO in February,” said Dr. Mark Jacobs, WHO Representative to Lao PDR. ”No country will be safe from the pandemic until all countries are protected. The arrival of the vaccines from COVAX in Lao PDR today is a step in the right direction towards this ultimate goal,” Dr. Jacobs explained
The vaccines that will be used in Lao PDR have gone through rigorous development and safety testing procedures, where the Ministry of Health – Food and Drug Department has assessed the evidence, benefits, and risks. The AstraZeneca vaccine licensed to Serum Institute of India provided through the COVAX was authorized for emergency use by the Ministry of Health on 22 February, after being listed for emergency use by WHO on 15 February.
“This is truly a momentous occasion for Lao PDR and marks a major milestone in ensuring fairer access to vaccines globally. UNICEF is proud to be playing a leading role in supplying COVID-19 vaccines to Lao PDR and contributing to strengthening the country’s capacity to handle the pandemic,” stated Dr. Pia Rebello Britto, UNICEF Representative to Lao PDR. “We are especially grateful to all partners for their significant contributions to GAVI and COVAX that have made possible the delivery of vaccines to Lao PDR. As the largest procurer of vaccines to Laos, for over a decade, UNICEF is aware of the critical role of such partnerships in delivering life-saving supplies for children,” Dr. Britto added.
The Government of Lao PDR has actively been planning the COVID 19 vaccination campaign. In addition to the Astra Zeneca vaccine received from the COVAX, the country has received bilateral vaccine donations from neighboring China and from the Russian Federation and began its first vaccination roll-out on 27 January 2021. As additional vaccines become approved and listed for emergency use by WHO, it is anticipated that such vaccines, if offered by producing countries, can also come under the COVAX Facility and enlarge the initiative aimed at providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“With appreciation for the work of WHO and UNICEF together with a number of additional actors and financial contributors, I would like to commend the Lao Government for its achievements in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its efforts in working for the vaccination of its population. The UN Country Team stands ready to provide its technical assistance including supporting resource mobilization and trust-building in and demand for vaccines that meet the highest international standards for the implementation of the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program to ensure its safety, efficacy, and equity, included therein also the Astra Zeneca vaccine which continues to be regarded by WHO as a safe and effective vaccine,” said Ms. Sara Sekkenes, UN Resident Coordinator to Lao PDR.
“Whilst ensuring the vaccination of priority groups first, like elsewhere, we would also like to call for the equitable allocation of vaccines, ensuring COVID-19 vaccines for vulnerable and hard-to-reach marginalized groups such as migrant workers including irregular migrants, internally displaced and rural populations and in particular ethnic populations residing in remote areas and also imprisoned detainees for which the need for social distancing can be challenged,” emphasized Ms. Sara Sekkenes.
The arrival of the vaccines in Lao PDR marks a key milestone for the COVAX facility in its unprecedented effort to deliver at least 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021, in what will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history.