Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi has received his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the government said on Monday, after a six-month wait caused by his unwillingness to take the AstraZeneca shot.
Democratic Republic of Congo has officially reported 56,000 cases and 1,066 deaths from the coronavirus, though test rates are low in the country of 90 million. The virus has ripped through its ruling elite, killing prominent lawmakers and members of the president’s entourage.
Help came in March with delivery of 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses from the COVAX vaccine sharing scheme co-run by the World Health Organization (WHO). But the government delayed the rollout after reports of rare blood clots, and exported about 75% of the vaccines to other countries.
Vaccinations in the Central African country have since gone at a snail’s pace. It has administered just 110,000 shots, according to the WHO, one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccine rates in the world.
“Having lost several relatives and close friends, I am in a better position to testify on the devastation caused by this pandemic,” Tshisekedi said following his inoculation on Sunday.
“The vaccine remains the best indicated solution for the moment.”
Tshisekedi is far behind other world leaders in getting vaccinated, many of whom chose to prove the efficiency and safety of vaccines by getting them in public. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa received a dose in front of cameras in February. Wavel Ramkalawan, the President of Seychelles, received his first dose in January.
Congo, like many African countries, lacks the funds and technology to pay for or make COVID vaccines in bulk, meaning it lags wealthier nations like the United States, the United Kingdom or Israel that have inoculated millions.
It received 250,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine on September 6, through COVAX. It is expecting the imminent arrival of several thousand doses of the Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, according to Roger Kamba, one of Tshisekedi’s healthcare advisors.