As the rich nations and developed countries speed up their vaccination drive to inoculate their citizens against COVID-19, vaccination campaign in Africa faces significant delay due to vaccine supply shortage. According to New York Times COVID-19 Tracker, while more than 1.74 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, equal to 23 doses for every 100 people, Africa has the lowest vaccination rate, with some countries yet to start mass vaccination campaigns.
Globally, North America and Europe are well ahead of the rest of the world, while Asia and Africa are seriously lagging. The COVID-19 outbreak in Africa accounts for 3 per cent of global infections and 4 per cent of global deaths.
In Africa, a region of 1.2 billion people, only 28 million doses have been administered, while in the US, a country with a population of about 330 million, has administered around 289 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. While the pandemic's impact has been less acute than in Africa, the continent largely unvaccinated population of over a billion still remains vulnerable.
Amid the vaccine delays, some African countries are facing new and possibly deadlier waves of the pandemic. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the specialized healthcare agency of the 55-member African Union, on Wednesday, reported that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa has reached 4,777,300, while fatalities from the pandemic stand at 129,069 with South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia, and Egypt together accounting for about 60 per cent of all infections recorded in the continent.
Sluggish vaccination rate hit hard by India’s export ban
According to the vaccine tracker complied by the Tony Blair Institute, Africa has received a very small share of doses compared with its estimated more than a billion population. The continent had received deliveries of just over 40 million doses by mid-May, out of which 18 million came from COVAX—the initiative backed by the WHO, 14 million were purchased by the government and 10 million were donated.
Africa CDC had called for all governments in Africa to vaccinate 30-35% of its population by the end of the year and 60% within the next two to three years. The target set by Africa CDC entirely relied on COVAX, the vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations that offers vaccines cheaply to developing countries.
However, India’s deadly crisis and its decision to halt all exports of the vaccines it produces has badly affected Africa’s mass vaccination drive. COVAX programme was largely dependent on AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, for procurement of COVID-19 vaccine which would have been distributed to low- and middle-income nations in Africa.
Many African countries have not received their share of vaccine and are not struggling to vaccinate its citizens. Countries like Ghana and Rwanda, which were among the first to receive doses from COVAX, are about to exhaust their initial supplies. Kenya has already exhausted its initial one million doses. In Botswana, inoculations were halted in some areas in April after the allotted doses were finished. Ethiopia has received just 2.2 million of the 7.6 million AstraZeneca shots it was due to get through COVAX by the end of April.
A lot of countries are also struggling to find the supply for the second dose as many African governments had prioritized administering the first dose initially in anticipation that more doses would arrive soon. However, that's not happening anytime soon.
Vaccine hesitancy and inadequate preparation
The operational and logistical difficulties have also contributed to the slow vaccine rollout in Africa. Many countries failed to prepare adequately before receiving the vaccines which have resulted in thousands of vaccine doses getting destroyed in many African countries because they've exceeded their expiry dates.
Malawi has destroyed almost 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, while South Sudan announced it would destroy 59,000 doses because there was with very little time left to use them. Nigeria has also announced that it won’t be able to use all of its doses.
Vaccine hesitancy has also been blamed in some parts of the continent for the slow vaccination rate. A study commissioned by the Africa CDC on Covid-19 vaccine perceptions in 15 countries indicated a significant proportion of people had concerns around vaccine safety
It is quite clear now that no country is safe until everyone is safe. The current inequality in vaccine availability and deployment is stark. Rich countries must support and make vaccination more accessible to developing countries.