It was 3:30 a.m. on a Sunday, September 26, 2021, and officials of the Ministry of Health were at the Kotoka International Airport to receive 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca covishield to help fight the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Also at the airport were officials from the Ghana Health Service, Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), and UNICEF who had defied the cold weather to ensure the doses were delivered, transported, and properly stored for the public to have access to safe and effective COVID 19 vaccines.
A few minutes earlier huge metal-coated cold crates arrived on a cargo flight carrying vials of Covishield and the main aim of the team at the airport is to ensure the vaccines are delivered in a timely and effective state.
Shortly after the aircraft landed, the German Ambassador to Ghana, Mr Daniel Krull in a brief ceremony, handed over, the consignment and documents covering the donation to one of Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Health, Alhaji Mahama Asei Seini who also handed them over to the Director General of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Patrick Kuma Aboagye.
After taking delivery of it, Dr Aboagye also handed it over to the Manager of the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano.
Immediately after the handing over ceremony, the crates of vaccines marked “time and temperature-sensitive product” were offloaded into an ultra cold vans which quickly conveyed the consignment to the national cold storage facilities for onward deliveries to cold storage facilities spread across the country.
The cold vans drove straight to the national cold rooms located in Ghana’s premier medical facility, the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in the heart of the capital of Ghana.
At the location, there are five walk-in freezers—three of them capable of storing vaccines at temperatures between +2 to + 8 degree Celsius. The other two freezers are capable of storing vaccines at temperatures below -20 Degrees Celsius.
There is also a specialised ultra-cold room which has eight freezers with a capacity to store vaccines at between -60 and -80 Degree Celsius. These ultra cold facilities are more than adequate to store the large quantities of vaccines that the government has been importing to cater for the population.
Once the vaccines are delivered to the ultra cold freezers in the city, they are distributed to the two cold storage facilities located in each of the 16 regional capitals of Ghana.
From the regional points the managers at the district levels pick the vaccines and store them in their fridges and freezers which are not walk-in but are able to story at + 2 to +8 degrees celsius for onward distribution to the subdistricts made up of health facilities where the vaccines are stored in fridges and cold boxes.
At the health facilities where the vaccines are administered, freezers are used to prepare ice packs to maintain the temperatures in the cold boxes and also ensure the vaccines are not frozen before use.
All the storage facilities from the national level to the sub district level are used for storing both routine vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines.
The safe transportation and storage of the COVID-19 vaccines is also to preserve the shelf life as experts say onces the vaccines are removed from one storage point and delivered at a destination storage facility in-country with the help of a cold van at the right temperature they can be stored for up to six months.
Ghana is also using drones to deliver vaccines to areas without roads and have sent vaccinators out into communities , especially the migratory population that travels routinely from north to south across the country so their animals can graze. These vaccinators stay with the community for periods of time while administering the vaccines.
Ghana’s strategy is to create herd immunity by vaccinating at least 20 million out of the current estimated 30.8 million Ghanaians. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in his residential COVID-19 response updates in January and February, 2021 respectively gave an assurance that the government would ensure that Ghanaians had access to vaccines. He also indicated that the government would ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines deployed in the country were effective and safe.
The President announced that the country was expected to receive its first consignment of the vaccines in March 2021.