The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said about 47 African countries, amounting to more than 90 per cent of the 54-nation continent, will miss the September, 2021, target for the vaccination of 10 per cent of their total population.

The global body, which noted that the new targets were announced recently at the World Health Assembly- the world’s highest health policy-setting body, said as of June 10, only 9.4 million of the continent’s about 1.3 billion people have been successfully vaccinated.

According to a statement issued by the global health organisation, speaking on Thursday at a media briefing facilitated by APO Group, a Pan-African communications consultancy firm, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said at 32 million doses, Africa accounts for less than one per cent of more than 2.1 billion doses of vaccines administered globally.

She was quoted to have added that only two per cent of the continent’s total population have received one dose of the vaccines.

The WHO official also expressed fear of the third wave of the pandemic on the continent, saying the figure of new cases has kept rising on a weekly basis “by nearly 20 per cent to more than 88,000 in the past week.

Ms Moeti said; “The pandemic is trending upwards in 10 African countries, with four nations recording a spike in new cases of over 30 per cent in the past seven days, compared with the previous week. 72 per cent of all new cases were reported in Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia and over half were recorded in nine southern African countries.

“As we close in on 5 million cases and a third wave in Africa looms, many of our most vulnerable people remain dangerously exposed to COVID-19. Vaccines have been proven to prevent cases and deaths, so countries that can, must urgently share COVID-19 vaccines. It’s do or die on dose sharing for Africa.”

Possible interventions

But Ms Moeti revealed possible interventions, saying the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, has promised to announce his country’s planned purchase and donation of 500 million Pfizer vaccines to 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries and the African Union.

She also said other countries such as France are also making tangible deliveries via COVAX, one of the three pillars for the access to coronavirus pandemic vaccines which is led by Gavi.

“The tide is starting to turn. We are now seeing wealthy nations beginning to turn promises into action,” said Ms Moeti.

Fear of vaccine expiration

Even as WHO continues to make a case for donation of vaccines to Africa, the body has said at the pace some African countries go about the vaccination of their population, some of the vaccines may expire before they are used.

Ms Moeti hinted that 12 African countries risk losing their available doses of vaccines if they don’t use them before August.

She said; “While more vaccines are vital, some African countries must ramp up actions to swiftly roll out the vaccines they have. While 14 African countries have used from 80 per cent to 100 per cent of the doses they received through the COVAX Facility, 20 countries have used less than 50 per cent of the doses received. Twelve countries have more than 10% of their AstraZeneca doses at risk of expiring by the end of August.

“We need to ensure that the vaccines that we have are not wasted because every dose is precious. Countries that are lagging behind in their rollout need to step up vaccination efforts.”

Applause

The WHO has, however, commended some African countries for being creative and proactive in their vaccination efforts.

“Several African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire and Niger are seeing more success by adjusting their vaccine rollout strategies. Where possible, WHO recommends spreading vaccinations beyond large cities into rural areas, prioritizing vaccines that are close to expiring, tackling logistical and financial hurdles and working to boost public demand for vaccines,” she said.

Low confidence in vaccine

The global health organisation explained that acceptance of vaccination varies across the various countries, saying people’s confidence in vaccines “ranges from 38 per cent in Cameroon to 86 per cent in Guinea.

Ms Moeti said on the average, West and Central Africa has the lowest vaccine confidence, which she noted stands around 60 per cent. She said the Risk Communication Community Engagement Collective, a joint WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) initiative, gave the report.

She said; “To combat mis-and-disinformation around vaccines, WHO and partners set up the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA), which leverages the reach and insights from a unique network of 14 organizations and pools resources to combat misinformation. Viral Facts Africa, the public face of the alliance, has created over 150 videos and social media posts to counter misinformation this year and they have been disseminated on almost 60 social media channels across the region and gained more than 100 million views.”

About the briefing

Ms Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Pierre N’Gou Dimba, Cote d’Ivoire Minister of Health, Public Hygiene and Universal Health Coverage, and Luchen Foster, Director of Health Partnerships, Facebook. Also on hand to answer questions were Phionah Atuhebwe, Vaccines Introduction Officer, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Thierno Balde, Team Leader, Operational Partnerships, WHO Regional Office for Africa, and Gilson Paluku, Routine Immunisation and New Vaccines Introduction Officer, WHO Regional Office for Africa.

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