ADDIS ABABA – A blockage on supplies and financial challenges are delaying Africa’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and risk curtailing plans to significantly expand the continent’s rollout later this year, says the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday.
Vaccine deliveries to Africa through the COVAX facility ground to a near halt in May as the Serum Institute of India diverted doses for domestic use.
Between February and May the continent received just about a quarter – 18.2 million – of the 66 million expected doses through COVAX.
“As people living in richer countries hit the reset button this summer and their lives start to look normal, in Africa our lives will stay on hold. This is unjust,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s Regional Director for Africa.
“We are optimistic that vaccine availability will improve significantly in the second half of the year,” she said. “We can still catch up and make up for the lost ground, but time is running out.”
The COVAX Facility continues to explore options to mitigate the impact of this global supply shortage and is actively negotiating with other vaccine manufacturers to diversify the portfolio.
“The supply gap can be closed if countries with surplus doses set aside a percentage of vaccines for COVAX,” said Dr Moeti.
The regional director has welcomed the pledge by the United States to share 80 million doses with other countries this week.
“Dose sharing is key to ending the supply crunch and the pandemic as a whole, as no one is safe until everyone is safe,” Dr. Moeti added.
‘Funding a critical barrier’
While limited supplies of doses are hampering the large-scale rollout of vaccines, funding for operational costs is also a critical barrier.
Eight African countries have used up all their vaccines, but over 20 countries have administered less than 50% of their doses, according the WHO.
COVAX is providing its share of vaccines for free to lower-income countries, but there are other significant costs. It is estimated that 60% of every dollar spent on delivering vaccines is needed for operations.
The World Bank calculates that on top of the money needed to buy enough vaccines to ensure adequate protection from COVID-19, another 3 billion is required to deliver the vaccines into the arms of people.
In some African countries, the lack of funds is already causing delays in addition to a shortage of vaccinators, sub-optimal training, weaker communications to boost the uptake of vaccines and an inability to capture crucial data or to print and distribute immunization cards.
“It’s critical to use this time, while there are only limited doses, to cost and plan for a more effective rollout and ensure that all doses are used as effectively as possible and none go to waste,” said Dr Moeti.
There are over 4.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases on the African continent with more than 4.2 million recoveries and 126,000 deaths, according to WHO figures.