Nearly seven million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Africa, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Thursday.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, while speaking during a virtual press conference, said countries in the region have accessed vaccines through various deals including the COVAX Facility and are targeting high-risk groups in the vaccination exercise.

“Altogether 38 African countries have received more than 25 million COVID-19 vaccines and 30 have started vaccination campaigns,” Ms Moeti said.

“Through the COVAX initiative – which is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with UNICEF – more than 16 million vaccine doses have so far been shipped to 27 countries.”

More than four million COVID-19 cases have now been reported on the African continent, with 43,000 new cases in the past week, and 108,000 lives lost, data from Worldometers shows.

Ms Moeti said although the region received COVID-19 vaccines late and in limited quantities, a lot of ground has been covered in a short space of time.

She said that the initial rollout phase in some African countries has reached a far higher number of people when compared with countries in other regions that accessed vaccines much earlier.

“This is due to the continent’s vast experience in mass vaccination campaigns and the determination of its leaders and people to effectively curb COVID-19,” she said.

According to Ms Moeti, Ghana, the first African country to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility, has administered more than 420,000 doses and covered over 60 per cent of the targeted population in the first phase

“In the first nine days, it is estimated the country delivered doses to around 90 per cent of health workers.

“In Morocco, more than 5.6 million vaccinations have taken place in the past seven weeks, while in Angola, vaccines have reached over 49,000 people, including more than 28, 000 health workers in the past week,” She said.

Nigeria received 3.94 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines in early March through the COVAX facility

Nigeria commenced vaccination on March 5 with Cyprian Ngong, a medical doctor becoming the first person to receive the jab in Nigeria. The rollout started with healthcare workers who are often at the risk of exposure to infections being the first responders to patients.

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Health authorities on Monday said over 8,000 Nigerians have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccines.

A few countries in Africa and Europe suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine following reports of blood clots and possible deaths from the usage of the vaccines.

Following its investigation, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Thursday declared the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine safe and effective for use against the virus.

The agency’s safety committee said the vaccine is safe but it would continue to study possible links between very rare blood clots and the vaccine.

“We still cannot rule out definitively a link between these cases and the vaccine,” Emer Cooke, the agency’s Executive Director said at a press conference.

WHO also said the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue.

Limited doses

Ms Moeti said there is an urgent need for more doses of the COVID-19 vaccines as Ghana, Rwanda and other countries are on the brink of running dry.

She explained that the initial vaccine doses are being limited to priority population groups including health workers, older people and people with health conditions placing them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

“Countries are clocking an impressive vaccination pace, but we must ensure this speed doesn’t slow down to a crawl,” Ms Moeti said.

“Additional supplies are urgently required to narrow the gap between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.”

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