Uganda orders 18 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, government says

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School children wear protective masks as they walk along the Kenya-Uganda railway line during the partial reopening of schools, in Nairobi

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda has ordered 18 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and up to 40% of the shipments are expected to arrive by the end of March, the government said on Tuesday, though the manufacturer said no deal had been reached on volumes or pricing yet.

Uganda has so far reported 39,651 COVID-19 cases and 325 deaths - a much lower toll than in most countries due to what experts attribute to years of experience battling other viral outbreaks such as HIV AIDS and Ebola.

Its economy, however, is reeling from the impact of the measures put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The vaccine shots will be procured from the Serum Institute of India, the government said in a statement detailing cabinet deliberations at a sitting held on Monday.

But on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Serum Institute of India told Reuters that the institute has not yet signed any deal with Uganda.

"While discussions are ongoing, there has been no finalization of price or volumes," the spokesman said.

The institute is supplying doses of the vaccine to Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa at $5.25 per dose.

The Ugandan government statement said each person would receive two doses separated by 28 days, and Uganda is purchasing the vaccine from the manufacturer at $7 per dose.

A Ugandan health ministry spokesman did not immediately respond to calls or messages seeking comment.

The first doses will be used to vaccinate people aged 50 years and above, people with underlying health conditions, health workers, security personnel, teachers and other essential social service providers, the Ugandan statement said.

Uganda is also set to receive an extra 3.5 million doses of the same vaccine, developed with Oxford University, from COVAX, the scheme set up by WHO to facilitate vaccine access by poor and middle-income countries, which will be received by early next month, the government said.

Last week, Uganda announced it had begun conducting clinical trials of a domestically developed drug to cure COVID-19 infections, after nearly a year of research by local scientists.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Duncan Miriri, Alison Williams, William Maclean)