Botswana has signed an agreement with the World Health Organization’s co-led global vaccine distribution scheme to buy coronavirus vaccines for at least 20% of its population.

The southern African country does not qualify for subsidized vaccines under the COVAX scheme unlike most African countries because it is classified as an upper middle income country.

Neighboring South Africa and Namibia also lie within the same category.

Botswana has so far been spared the worst of the pandemic with the country recording only 7800 positive cases and 27 deaths.

However, its economy that is super reliant on diamonds and tourism has suffered a severe blow.

Botswana made an upfront payment to COVAX this week and will have the option to secure roughly 940,800 vaccine doses under a two-dose regimen, Moses Keetile, deputy permanent secretary in the health ministry, said in an interview.

Botswana’s population is around 2.3 million.

“20% coverage is the initial allotment guaranteed under the arrangement,” Keetile said.

The COVAX facility involves more than 180 countries and it aims to make available 2 billion doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021.

Self-financing countries like Botswana participate either through optional purchase or committed purchase and the Southern African country went for the optional purchase model to allow it to opt out at a later stage if necessary.

Keetile said that they would ask development partners to contribute towards payments to the facility that are outstanding.

Botswana could also consider bilateral deals with vaccine manufacturers if the need arises, but currently COVAX is its preferred procurement route.

The country recently reopened its international borders to try to support its battered tourism sector, a major foreign-exchange earner, and cushion the blow of a forecast economic contraction of around 9% this year.

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