The battle against the spread of the COVID-19 virus was half won with the release of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the number of people in need of the vaccine outweighed its supply resulting in a global power struggle. The slow production of the COVID-19 vaccine and the more infectious delta variant means many developing countries are at the mercy of developed nations. The developing countries had to rely on donations and the COVAX scheme to get COVID-19 vaccines.
The COVAX Scheme is a joint alliance between several bodies including the WHO, the CEPI, and the Vaccine Alliance. The scheme ensures that member countries get easy access to the vaccines regardless of their income level. This brought hope to the African continent and many other developing parts of the world.
COVID-19 Vaccination: How Is Africa Getting Along?
In July, the number of COVID-19 cases in Africa peaked at about 286,000 cases per week. South Africa and Tunisia took the worst hit accounting for more than 55% of deaths according to the UN. Sadly, only 2% of the 1.3 billion people in Africa have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. At this pace, Africa will fail to meet the target of vaccinating 10% of its population by the end of September.
According to WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, meeting the 10% target is a “very daunting task”. The question remains, “Why is Africa lacking behind”? Is it as a result of vaccine apathy or low availability of vaccine doses?
Vaccine Hesitancy from Conspiracy Theories
Initially, most Africans were unwilling to take the COVID jabs. The major deterrent being the spread of conspiracy theories about the COVID vaccine. However, the rigorous awareness campaigns by both the African governments and foreign organizations lowered vaccine hesitancy. And more people began trooping down to health facilities in their respective countries to be vaccinated. Ironically, when the people were willing to take the shot, there was not enough vaccine available.
Dr @MoetiTshidi: "In #Africa & globally, we have faced an unprecedented dual challenge in the response to #COVID19. We are fighting a highly infectious, dangerous virus, & highly infectious, dangerous misinformation."
— WHO African Region (@WHOAFRO) December 3, 2020
Vaccine Scarcity and the Irony of a Booster Shot
The rising death tolls in Africa from the COVID-19 virus is “a preventable tragedy if African countries can get a fair access to the vaccines”, says Moeti. According to her, the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the past few weeks has tripled. Nevertheless, the numbers are still insignificant considering the fact that the majority of the African populace still don’t have access to the vaccine.
The growth of infections in sub-Saharan Africa is now the fastest in the world while vaccine rollout remains slow.
— IMF (@IMFNews) June 28, 2021
The reason for this is that most of the COVID-19 vaccines coming to Africa are sourced from the Serum Insitute of India via the COVAX scheme. Early this year, India faced a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases. To combat this, the Serum Institute of India had to stop exporting vaccines in order to have enough for its own needs.
Consequently, African countries that relied on the COVAX scheme faced a shortage in supply. Ironically, according to the head of Africa CDC, John Nkengasong, “the countries that made pledges and committed to supporting COVAX ended up buying most of the vaccines”. The WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus puts it more succinctly,
“It is unconscionable that some countries are now offering booster shots while so many people remain unprotected”.
The statement of the WHO director-general was arguably referring to the recommendation made by the Biden administration to begin offering booster shots to its citizens. This recommendation was met with fierce criticism from public health bodies including the WHO.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy defended the Biden administration's plans to begin rolling out booster shots for many Americans the week of Sept. 20, despite criticism from the World Health Organization. https://t.co/UZ73fbMjZ1
— Yahoo News (@YahooNews) August 22, 2021
Slow Vaccination Process
According to the WHO, “14 African countries have used from 80% to 100% of the doses they received through the COVAX Facility, 20 countries have used less than 50% of the doses received. Twelve countries have more than 10% of their AstraZeneca doses at risk of expiring by the end of August”.
“As wealthy nations like the United States race toward herd immunity, the pace of vaccine rollout has been painfully slow in Africa and Southeast Asia at a time when both regions are experiencing worrying increases in case numbers.” https://t.co/cAeON4P9p8
— Prof. Gavin Yamey MD MPH (@GYamey) March 10, 2021
While most African countries are picking up speed in administering the COVID-19 vaccine, some are yet to do so. Among these are Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Benin, and Madagascar. According to Forbes, these African countries have vaccinated less than 0.7% of their population.
“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,” says Dr. Moeti.
African Countries that have Vaccinated Over a Million People
The story is not all gloomy because there are some African countries that have successfully vaccinated more than a million people. This is a milestone worth celebrating, considering the challenges facing African governments. if indeed all African countries have equal access to the vaccine via the COVAX scheme, then Surpassing the 1-millionth mark depends largely on the vaccine rollout strategy in place. Below are the 12 African countries with more than one million vaccinated people in descending order.
Total population: 36 miliion
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 18.23 million
#2. South Africa
Total population: 59 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 9.03 million
Total population: 102 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 5.11 million
Total population: 11 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 3.69 million
Total population: 43 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 3.42 million
Total population: 206 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 2.55 million
Total population: 14 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 2.53 million
Total population: 53 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 1.89 million
Total population: 12 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 1.24 million
Total population: 32 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 1.21 million
Total population: 16 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 1.15 million
Total population: 32 million
Number of people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccine: 1.11 million
How to Improve Vaccination Drive Across Africa
Morocco is leading other African nations with a huge margin. So, we can take a cue from them to understand how to improve the vaccination drive in Africa. From the onset, the Moroccan government sort for the vaccines from several sources and was also involved in the early vaccine trials. By taking this initiative, Morocco had access to more vaccines than any other African nation. The government also plans to produce the Sinophram vaccines locally and this will reduce its dependency on foreign governments.
For the vaccine rollout, the Moroccan government mobilized both health personnel and the military. The 12,000 health personnel initially mobilized were deployed to 2,888 vaccination stations across the country. In comparison, South Africa has only 18 vaccination centers, despite having a larger population.
Having more vaccination centers makes it easy for its citizens to get access to the COVID-19 vaccine without delay. This will also curb wastage since the vaccines won’t need to be stored for too long and risk expiration. Indeed, other African nations can learn from this to improve their vaccination rollout process. Instead of relying only on lockdown which takes a toll on the economy.