The east-central African nation of Rwanda began its COVID-19 vaccination program Friday, using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, making it the first African nation to administer the drug.
The nation received 102,960 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and 240,000 doses of AstraZeneca through the international vaccine cooperative, COVAX facility earlier this week. Rwandan health authorities began transporting both shots around the hilly nation of 12 million people using helicopters to reach far-flung areas.
Earlier this week, Minister of Health Dr. Daniel Ngamije said the nation’s vaccination plan would prioritize high-risk groups first, including the sick and the elderly, as well as front-line medical workers. He said the government’s goal was to vaccinate 30% of Rwandans by the end of 2021, and 60% by the end of 2022.
The government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, which prides itself on efficiency and technological prowess but is often criticized as authoritarian, has installed special infrastructure to keep the Pfizer vaccine at the recommended -80 to -60 Celsius.
Last week, after examining research conducted by its manufacturers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, when transported and stored at conventional refrigerator temperatures, can still be effective for up to two weeks.