Limited supplies slow COVID-19 vaccination in Africa
By Kingsley Ighobor.
Limited supplies of vaccines and uneven vaccination in countries complicate efforts to vaccinate people on the continent. As of mid-May, only about 38 million vaccines had been received by African countries. Of that number, 23 million were already administered.
Yet about 83% of the doses administered so far are concentrated in 10 countries – Morocco, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Angola, Tunisia and Senegal.
Morocco alone accounts for more than 10 million of the 23 million administered doses, although Seychelles has the highest per capita rate on the continent by having fully vaccinated 51% of its population, according to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO Africa).
Given Africa’s estimated population of 1.2 billion, 38 million doses are grossly inadequate, experts say.
Also, globally, 1.2 billion doses have been administered by mid-May, making Africa’s 23 million doses less than 2 per cent of the global total.
“Africa is already playing COVID-19 vaccination catch-up, and the gap is widening,” warned Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, at a press briefing in April.
She added: “Although progress is being made, many African countries have barely moved beyond the starting line. Limited stocks and supply bottlenecks are putting COVID-19 vaccines out of reach of many people in this region.”
Africa is already playing COVID-19 vaccination catch-up, and the gap is widening.
A positive note
On a positive note, vaccination is ongoing in 49 of the African Union’s 55 member states. And 34 countries reported decreasing cases in the week ending 9 May.
Overall, while infections increased by 33,794 in the week 3–9 May, that figure represented a “14.5% decrease compared to the previous week,” stated WHO Africa.
Another piece of good news is that WHO data show that infections in Africa are the least of any region. Of the 160 million confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, 3.3 million cases (2.9%) were reported in Africa.
Even then, epidemiologists warn that vaccinating a significant number of the population, irrespective of current spread, is needed to arrest the pandemic.
According to WHO Africa, there is an uptick in the infection rate in at least 11 African countries, including Angola, Comoros, Eritrea, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mauritania, Niger, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.
“South Africa has started seeing an increase in weekly cases after over two months of decline and plateau,” noted a WHO Africa report.
The 10 countries that have vaccinated their populations the most have used at least 65% of their supplies, meaning that unless they restock as soon as possible, there will be little left to continue apace their vaccination activities.
A significant increase in vaccination in South Africa will impact Africa’s overall numbers, given that the country disproportionately accounts for nearly 35% of the total number of cases on the continent.
The South African government’s vaccination efforts had been complicated by the new coronavirus variant, which the AstraZeneca vaccine could not efficaciously tackle.
Globally, 1.2 billion doses have been administered by mid-May, making Africa’s 23 million doses less than 2% of the global total.
As a result, the South African government suspended its use of AstraZeneca and ordered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that has proven to be efficacious against the new variant.
Yet by April, two months after it began to roll out the J&J vaccine, news broke that a few people taking the vaccine in the United States had developed blood clots, forcing the South African government to suspend its use.
Vaccination could ramp up in the coming months in South Africa; it is expecting more than 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of May. It has also resumed the use of J&J, following its reauthorization in May by the US Food and Drug Administration.
In the meantime, a much-talked-about vaccine hesitancy by Africans is not likely to materialize, according to a survey by Africa CDC and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine carried out last December to identify “knowledge gaps, cultural beliefs, and attitudes to inform interventions for pre-deployment of vaccines across the continent.”
The survey showed that up to 79% of respondents were willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine so long as it is deemed safe and effective.
The snag, though, is that willingness to take the vaccine varies from country to country. For example, while 94 % of Ethiopians and 93% of Nigeriens would take the vaccine willingly, only 65% of Senegalese and 59 per cent of Congolese said they would.
Africa CDC stated that “prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there had been a global decline in vaccine acceptability and uptake because of doubts about efficacy and safety and the spread of misinformation about vaccines.”
To tackle the spread of misinformation, the UN in May 2020 launched the “Verified” initiative — a platform that delivers trusted information to the public.
The organization invited the public to sign up at www.shareverified.com and help “counter the spread of COVID-19 misinformation by sharing fact-based advice with their communities.”
For more information on COVID-19, visit www.un.org/coronavirus