Burundi Finally Approves Covax Vaccines for Use

The Republic of Burundi has finally agreed to take Covax vaccines. Being one of the last countries in the world to start inoculating its population against Covid-19, it says it will only take Covax conditionally.

The change in decision came a day after the IMF agreed in principle to a $78 million (65 million euro) aid package to help Burundi deal with the fallout of the pandemic.

Health Minister Thaddee Ndikumana announced on Wednesday that Burundi would accept Covax vaccines offered by the World Bank, but would refuse to sign a waiver. It was not immediately clear how many doses the East African country will receive or when.

Burundi along with Eritrea and North Korea are the only countries yet to start Covid-19 immunization campaigns after Tanzania began rolling out vaccinations on Wednesday.

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Until now, the government has refused to be part of the Covax initiative, saying it did not want vaccines that were still “at the experimental stage”.

In a major turn-around last year, President Evariste Ndayishimiye declared the coronavirus the country’s “biggest enemy”.

Ndayishimiye and his predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza, who died suddenly in June 2020 amid speculation he had contracted Covid, had previously downplayed the gravity of the pandemic, saying God has spared Burundi from its ravages.

But the country still only rarely gives data on coronavirus infections. The latest, issued on July 13, shows a total of 5,723 cases and eight deaths.

“The vaccine will be given to those who need it,” the health minister said. The government will store the doses but will not take responsibility for any side effects, he added.

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While encouraging Africa countries to be observant of the symptoms of the Vaccine, the Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said at a joint press conference with the World Health Organization’s regional office for Africa that “… we stand ready to work with Burundi to provide them with the technical assistance so that they can deploy the vaccines in all dimensions and not just look at the immunization but also monitor the effects of the vaccines going forward,”

The International Monetary Fund meanwhile has agreed in principle — subject to higher IMF approval — to a $78 million credit facility to address the “economic and social impact” of the pandemic in Burundi.

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The country’s economy shrank by about one percent in 2020, according to the IMF.

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