Covid-19 Africa: What is happening with vaccine supplies?

The World Health Organization (WHO) says a large number of poorer countries relying on the global vaccine sharing scheme Covax do not have enough doses to continue vaccinating.

The UN and the Africa Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have already urged countries with surplus supplies to donate them to parts of Africa where they’re needed.

What is happening with second doses?

Many African countries followed advice from the WHO to administer as many first doses as possible and not stockpile vaccines for second doses.

It had said in May that providing a first dose to as many people as possible was the highest priority.

Some countries have also been under pressure to use vaccines urgently or risk them passing their expiry dates.

• Why some African countries are struggling to use their vaccines

These factors have contributed to a major shortage of doses for second jabs, principally of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Most African countries have got their vaccines under the Covax scheme, and these were largely sourced from the Serum Institute of India.

However, India halted vaccine exports in response to its own urgent needs, and manufacturers faced issues with ramping up production in a short space of time.

• How does the Covax scheme work?

The Covax programme – backed by the WHO and other multilateral bodies – aims to supply 600 million doses to Africa, enough to vaccinate at least 20% of the population.

The WHO says Africa needs 200 million doses to vaccinate 10% of its population by September this year.

“As supplies dry up, dose-sharing is an urgent, critical and short-term solution to ensuring that Africans at the greatest risk of Covid-19 get the much-needed protection,” says WHO’s Matshidiso Moeti.

How has the vaccine rollout progressed?

In Africa, only about two doses of vaccine have been administered per 100 people, compared with an average of 68 doses per 100 in high-income countries.

And less than 1% of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated.

Deliveries of vaccine supplies under the WHO-backed Covax programme started in February, and most countries in Africa signed up and received vaccine doses.

Some countries are also getting donations from China, Russia, India and the UAE.

Only Tanzania, Burundi and Eritrea are yet to receive vaccines.

Now, some countries have exhausted the initial vaccine supplies they received from the Covax scheme, while others have had a slow uptake of jabs.

 The slow rate of vaccination is caused partly by issues around distributing the vaccines, such as the lack of health infrastructure and staff.

But there are fears that vaccine hesitancy and scepticism could be playing a role.

“While we call for vaccine equity, Africa must also knuckle down and make the best of what we have,” said Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for WHO in Africa.

Seven African countries have used up all of vaccines they received through Covax and another seven have administered over 80%.

But 23 countries have used less than half of the doses they have received so far, including four countries now seeing a resurgence in cases.

 There’s now more than a million AstraZeneca doses in 18 countries that need to be used before their expiry at the end of August, the WHO says.

What’s happened to vaccinations in South Africa?

South Africa, the country on the continent hit hardest by coronavirus, has been slow to administer Covid-19 vaccines.

The government says this was caused by factors out of its control. It delayed an initial vaccination plan using the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns about its efficacy against a new variant of coronavirus.

It sold on the vaccine doses it had bought from India to the African Union, which distributed the doses elsewhere.

 It started vaccinating on 17 February after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is administered as a single dose and has been shown to be effective against the variant.

But the programme was put on hold in mid-April because of concerns about rare blood clot cases in the US. Vaccinations resumed in late April.

It started vaccinating using the Pfizer vaccine in mid-May.

So far, more than two million out of the population of 59 million in South Africa have been vaccinated – about half a million of them with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (which is a single-dose) and the rest with the Pfizer vaccine. (BBC)

The Ethiopian Herald June 25/2021

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