The Pfizer BioNTech vaccines will be used to protect more than 50,000 people above 60 years and those with underlying health conditions.
Laos today received a new shipment of Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility – a partnership between the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization (WHO) – consisting of 100,620 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
The Government of Lao PDR will use this batch to vaccinate 50,300 people above 60 years of age and with underlying health conditions, in line with the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan developed by the Government of Lao PDR. The vaccine rollout will start in Vientiane Capital and later expand to other high-risk areas such as Bokeo, Champasack, and Savannakhet.
“The arrival of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccines is very timely as the Government of Lao PDR has set an ambitious target of protecting 50 percent of the total population with COVID-19 vaccines in 2021. These vaccines will move us towards the achievement of this target. I would like to also emphasize that while vaccines help countries control COVID-19, we must continue to maintain physical distance, wear masks and wash hands frequently with soap – even after getting two doses of Covid-19 vaccine,” said Vice-Minister of Health, Dr. Sanong Thongsana.
The Covid-19 vaccines being used in Laos have gone through rigorous development and safety testing procedures, and the Ministry of Health’s Food and Drug Department has assessed the evidence, benefits and risks. The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was listed for emergency use by WHO on 31 December 2020.
“It is with great pleasure that we welcome this shipment of Pfizer BioNTech vaccines from the COVAX Facility. All three of the Covid-19 vaccines currently in use in Lao PDR have been emergency use listed by WHO, giving assurance about the quality, safety, and efficacy of these vaccines,” said Dr. Mark Jacobs, WHO Representative to Lao PDR.
“I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Government of Lao PDR on developing the capacity to manage the use of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which requires special storage to maintain this vaccine in the proper conditions,” he added.
The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine requires an extremely cold storage temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius to maintain its efficacy and therefore requires an ultra-cold chain (UCC). The Institut Pasteur du Laos (IPL) has reserved two units of new ultra-cold freezers specifically for Covid-19 vaccines, which could potentially store up to 740,000 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.
The National Centre Laboratory Epidemiology (NCLE) has also dedicated one ultra-cold freezer with storage capacity for 300,000 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. WHO has procured three additional ultra-cold freezers that could store up to approximately 360,000 doses of the vaccine for use in both Vientiane Capital and other provinces. These add to the 157 refrigerators from UNICEF and 20 freezers from WHO provided to the Government of Lao PDR to strengthen its cold chain capacity.
“The arrival of this latest shipment of vaccines represents yet another important milestone in Lao PDR’s pandemic response and a step towards ensuring equitable and fair access to COVID-19 vaccines globally,” stated Ms. Beate Dastel, UNICEF Representative a.i. to Lao PDR.
“I would like to congratulate the Government of Lao PDR for their effective handling of new Covid-19 cases in the country and swiftly rolling out vaccinations to protect the Lao people. UNICEF and our partners will continue to work closely together to support Lao PDR’s pandemic response, including the procurement of the vaccines,” she added.
In addition to the vaccines, Lao PDR will receive on June 6 an additional supply of 100,700 syringes and 1,175 safety boxes procured by UNICEF.
The first shipment of COVAX-supported vaccines consisting of 132,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine arrived in the country on 20 March. This is the second shipment of COVAX-supported vaccines in Laos. Additional consignments are expected to arrive in the country by the end of the year.
COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO and CEPI, working in partnership with UNICEF as well as the World Bank, civil society organizations, manufacturers, and others. COVAX is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
Gavi board members represented in Lao PDR include Australia, Canada, the European Commission, France, Germany, Japan, The Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.