Less than two per cent of the 690 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered globally have been in Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.
In a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES, the international health agency said about 45 African countries have received vaccines and 43 of them have commenced vaccinations.
It also said nearly 13 million of the 31.6 million doses delivered to Africa so far have been administered. Nigeria has vaccinated almost one million people.
However, the pace of vaccine rollout is not uniform across the continent with 93 per cent of the doses given in 10 countries, according to the agency.
“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,” the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said while speaking during a virtual press conference on Thursday.
“Fair access to vaccines must be a reality if we are to collectively make a dent on this pandemic.”
Ms Moeti said vaccine rollout preparedness has helped some countries reach a large proportion of the targeted high-risk population groups such as health workers.
She noted that the 10 countries in the region that have vaccinated the most have used at least 65 per cent of their supplies.
She said vaccine rollout in some countries has been delayed by operational and financial hurdles or logistical difficulties such as reaching remote locations.
“Africa is already playing COVID-19 vaccination catch-up, and the gap is widening. While we acknowledge the immense burden placed by the global demand for vaccines, inequity can only worsen scarcity,” Moeti said.
“More than a billion Africans remain on the margins of this historic march to overcome the pandemic.”
Through the COVAX Facility, 16.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, mainly that produced by Oxford-AstraZeneca, have been delivered to African countries, according to the WHO.
Nigeria has benefitted from the COVAX facility having received approximately four million doses of the COVID-19 Astrazeneca vaccine.
More than 4.3 million COVID-19 cases have now been reported on the African continent and 114,915 lives lost, data from Worldometers shows.
For the past two months, the region has seen a plateau of around 74, 000 new cases per week.
However, Kenya is experiencing a third wave and the epidemic is showing an upward trend in 14 other African countries, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali, Rwanda and Tunisia, Moeti said.
Ms Moeti noted that WHO’s Global Advisory Committee for Vaccine Safety has concluded that the link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the occurrence of rare blood clots is plausible but not yet confirmed.
This follows the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) announcement that unusual blood clots should be listed as very rare side-effects of the vaccine.
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Among the almost 200 million individuals who have received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine around the world, cases of blood clots and low platelets is extremely low, the health agency said.
Ms Moeti said the committee continues to gather and review further data while carefully monitoring the rollout of all COVID-19 vaccines.
“Based on current information, WHO considers that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks and that countries in Africa should continue to vaccinate people with the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
A few countries in Africa and Europe earlier suspended use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine following reports of blood clots and possible deaths from the usage of the vaccines.
Most of these countries have however, resumed vaccination following declaration by EMA and WHO that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for use against the virus.