Tanzania poised to join COVAX vaccine-sharing facility - WHO

NAIROBI, June 17 (Reuters) - Tanzania is working to join the COVAX global vaccine-sharing facility and will sit down with aid agencies next week to plan its first national COVID inoculation campaign, World Health Organization officials said on Thursday.

The East African country has been racing to catch up with COVID programmes across the continent since the death of its COVID-sceptic and vaccine-sceptic president John Magufuli in March.

The government has signalled it is now taking the disease seriously. But it remains one of only four African nations that have not started a national vaccination drive, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

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"We have received information that Tanzania is now formally working to join the COVAX facility," the WHO's regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti told a news conference.

The first vaccines under the scheme could arrive in a couple of weeks, Richard Mihigo from the WHO's Immunization and Vaccines Development Programme in Africa told the same briefing.

The semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar had also secured 10,000 doses of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine which arrived on June 14, Mihigo later told Reuters.

"The vaccines are intended for pilgrims, frontline workers, hotel attendants and people with co-morbidities," he said.

Tanzanian authorities were not immediately reachable for comment.

Mihigo said a meeting was planned next week between the government, the WHO, the U.N. children's agency UNICEF and other health partners to develop the national COVID-19 vaccine deployment plan.

Magufuli, when he was in office, played down the threat of COVID-19 and dismissed vaccines as part of a Western conspiracy. The country of 58 million people stopped reporting COVID-19 cases and deaths in May 2020.

The WHO's Moeti urged Tanzania to start sending data again.

"We are strongly encouraging the country, now that it's going to address the situation through vaccination, to share data with us so that we can play the most effective role in helping - for example in targeting, in the planning, where to start, where to focus, that can only be done on the basis of evidence," Moeti said.

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Reporting by Omar Mohammed; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Alison Williams

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