One year into the Covid-19 pandemic, Africa is faced with triple challenges: vaccine shortage, vaccine hesitancy and perception of virus risk.
Health officials are concerned with the new variant and Covid-19 cases especially in India and worry which region will get hit next. To resolve the scramble for vaccines and controversy regarding the distribution between developed countries and developing countries, COVAX was created.
Most African countries rely on COVAX, the World Health Organization (WHO) program built to ensure poor countries have equitable access to vaccines to combat the pandemic, for their vaccine supply. It also aims to secure and allocate about 2 million doses of covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2021. The vaccines are targeted for WHO primary populations including frontline healthcare workers and other groups at high risk.
The main supplier, the Serum Institute of India (SII) produces the two-shot AstraZeneca vaccine. But increased domestic demand for doses in India, where the pandemic is currently surging out of control, has interrupted supplies being flown out for COVAX. The country is unlikely to resume major exports before October.
Amidst vaccine shortage, some African countries are destroying their first consignment of COVAX vaccines which are now past their expiration date. Million of doses delivered to the continent were never used and have been stockpiled in warehouses. Health authorities in Malawi have incinerated 19,630 expired doses of AstraZeneca Coronavirus vaccine. Also a number of West African countries are few weeks away from having their vaccine supply expire.
Developed countries have vaccinated over 40% of their population while Africa with over 1.3 billion people, which is 16% of the world’s population have received only 2% of the vaccine. Although the case counts and deaths in African nations are low, Africa, like western countries must work to accelerate access to covid-19 vaccination and make vaccination a priority.
The vaccination is slow on the continent. According to the Africa CDC, African countries will need to vaccinate about 70% of the population by the end of 2022 to avoid the continued spread of the disease.
The slow pace of vaccination, allowing the pandemic disruptions to continue, also imperils routine immunisation efforts. Therefore, government spokespeople must stress the importance of getting vaccinated. To boost immunisation rates, governments must invest resources as well as their energy in distributing the vaccine. Immunisation efforts should start with the health workers who have to vaccinate everyone else, and then expand to the general public. Investments in transportation and supply chain logistics will help better distribute the vaccine shipments.