NEW DELHI: A health worker inoculates India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a COVID-19 vaccine at AIIMS hospital yesterday. – AFP

ACCRA: Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo yesterday became the first recipient of a coronavirus vaccine under the global Covax scheme, as US health workers prepared to distribute nearly four million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson jab. Covax, a scheme designed to ensure that poorer countries do not miss out on COVID-19 vaccines that have so far been largely hoovered up by rich nations, is aiming to deliver at least two billion doses by the end of the year.

Akufo-Addo received his AstraZeneca shot live on television along with his wife, a day before the rest of the first batch of 600,000 Covax doses are deployed across Ghana. “It is important that I set the example that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it, so that everybody in Ghana can feel comfortable about taking this vaccine,” the president said.

In Ivory Coast a short while later, Patrick Achi, President Alassane Ouattara’s spokesman, was vaccinated in a tent vaccination center set up in a sports complex in Abidjan, the country’s economic hub. Getting the jab, said Achi, was a “patriotic duty”. Vaccination “offers the hope of a return to normal in the coming months,” he said. Ivorian Health Minister Eugene Aka Ouele said the first batch of 504,000 Covax vaccines would be distributed in the Abidjan area, “the epicenter of the country’s epidemic”.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also got his coronavirus jab yesterday – although a glitch in the online booking system meant thousands of others were turned away from hospitals nationwide. And in the United States, 3.9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are due to be delivered after it became the latest jab to get the green light from US regulators. The J&J rollout comes as a boost to President Joe Biden’s plan to beat back a virus that has killed more than half a million Americans, making the US the world’s worst-hit nation.

Vaccines are seen as crucial to returning the world to normality and healing the economy after a pandemic that has claimed more than 2.5 million lives across the globe. More than 224 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, according to national data compiled by AFP, with the Philippines among the latest countries to launch a rollout yesterday.

But rich countries have bought up the vast majority of those available, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn that the crisis cannot end unless poor countries can vaccinate their populations too. A new row is brewing over a call, led by India and South Africa, for intellectual property rights to the vaccines to be waived.

Backed by dozens of governments from Argentina to Bangladesh, they argue that this would boost production and ultimately bring the pandemic to a swifter end. But the United States, the European Union and Switzerland – home to major pharmaceutical firms – oppose the idea, which is being thrashed out at a World Trade Organization meeting.

While inoculation campaigns are now well under way, the spread of highly infectious COVID variants has fuelled worries that they could prove more resistant to the vaccines. Britain has appealed for a person infected with the potent Brazilian strain to come forward after the person failed to leave contact details while being tested – meaning they could still be infecting others without knowing it.

Modi received a domestic developed vaccine, Covaxin, in a carefully choreographed operation at the AIIMS national medical institute. The vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech, is one of two approved for use in India even though the late stage data from trials on 25,800 volunteers have not yet been released. Despite criticism from some doctors and health workers, India’s drug regulator and the company insist it is safe for use.

Fears over vaccines have contributed to the slow pace of inoculation and Modi said on Twitter: “I appeal to all those who are eligible to take the vaccine. Together, let us make India COVID-19 free!” Problems with online registration did not help on the first day of the new drive. “It’s utter chaos here,” said Nilanjana Gupta, who took her lawyer father Sunil Gupta to the Max Smart Super Speciality hospital in Delhi.

Gupta said the administrators were “clueless”. She said it took more than 30 attempts to get a registration number on the government app. “I expected this but it’s still very frustrating,” she added. An uncle of US Vice-President Kamala Harris was also among those affected. Balachandran Gopalan, an academic, told AFP he got onto the government portal and received a registration number and an appointment at a hospital in New Delhi’s Malviya Nagar area.

“Once I got there, they checked my registration details and said they have no record of it,” the 79-year-old said. Gopalan said hospital officials could not tell him when his turn would come. “I understand the doctors are stressed,” he said. “But why put the patients under stress?” Some, like 69-year-old Vijaya Shankar, were happy after they got the inoculation, which cost just $3.40. “I have waited for so long and the day is now finally here. I think the government has done a great job,” she said. “The vaccine is cheap, I don’t mind paying.” – AFP