After a near-halt of COVID-19 vaccine shipments in Africa, delivers have ramped up in recent months, the UN health agency said on Thursday.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) nearly four million doses of coronavirus vaccines from the UN-partnered COVAX initiative arrived in Africa last week, compared with just 245,000 for all of June.
Reminding that the continent is still “in the throes of the pandemic’s third wave”, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, told a virtual press conference with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, “we are not out of the woods yet”.
WHO said that it hoped COVAX would ship 520 million doses to Africa by the end of 2021, in addition to more shots from other sources, including deliveries from the African Union, which is expected to supply around 45 million jabs by the end of the year.
In total, almost 79 million vaccine doses have reached Africa but only 21 million people, or just 1.6 per cent of Africa’s population, are fully vaccinated.
“We are beginning to see positive signs as vaccine deliveries to Africa are picking up pace after nearly coming to a halt”, said Dr. Moeti.
Around 30 countries have used more than three-quarters of the vaccines they received, according to WHO.
Despite the vaccine supply crunch, seven countries, including Equatorial Guinea, Mauritius, Morocco and Seychelles, have reached vaccination rates significantly above the continental average.
“Considering a two-dose schedule, as is the case with most COVID-19 vaccines, 820 million vaccine doses are needed to reach the target of fully vaccinating 30 per cent of Africa’s population by the end of this year”, explained the UN official.
Stepping up production
Africa still needs more than 700 million doses to reach this target.
To this end, COVAX has sealed deals with Sinopharm and Sinovac to immediately supply 110 million doses to low-income countries, of which 32.5 million are destined for Africa.
“These doses have been allocated to countries this week and will be delivered as soon as countries are ready to receive them”, said Dr. Moeti.
And with more vaccine candidates and manufacturing sites at the tail end of the review process for Emergency Use Listing by WHO, the COVAX facility is confident that it will deliver at least 520 million doses to Africa by year’s end.
Moreover, the African Union recently announced plans to start delivering 400 million Johnson & Johnson doses to countries throughout the continent.
Rolling out vaccines
With the expected influx of doses, WHO underscored the importance of scaling up all the aspects of vaccine rollouts to reach as many people as possible – from mobilizing adequate resources to increasing vaccine confidence.
Noting that initial rollouts prohibited countries from unlocking funding because their costing schemes often omitted critical expenses, such as cold-chain storage, delivery logistics and paying vaccinators, Dr. Moeti said, “we continue to support countries to better plan and cost vaccine operational and delivery processes”.
Tanzania kicked off its vaccination campaign this week with the first delivery of around a million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses through COVAX from the United States.
“Together we can begin to turn the tide against this untold human tragedy”, concluded the WHO Regional Director.