As the COVAX Facility is forced to slash planned COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to Africa by around 150 million this year, the continent faces almost 500 million doses short of the global year-end target of fully vaccinating 40% of its population.
This shortfall comes as Africa tops 8 million COVID-19 cases this week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
With the cutback COVAX is now expected to deliver 470 million doses to Africa this year. These will be enough to vaccinate just 17% of the population, far below the 40% target. An additional 470 million doses are needed to reach the end-year target even if all planned shipments via COVAX, a multilateral initiative aimed at guaranteeing global access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines, and the African Union are delivered.
“Export bans and vaccine hoarding have a chokehold on vaccine supplies to Africa. As long as rich countries lock COVAX out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals. The huge gap in vaccine equity is not closing anywhere near fast enough. It is time for vaccine manufacturing countries to open the gates and help protect those facing the greatest risk,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
As export bans, challenges in boosting production at COVAX manufacturing sites and delays in filing for regulatory approvals for new vaccines constrain deliveries, COVAX has called for donor countries to share their supply schedules to give more clarity on deliveries.
COVAX has also called for countries with enough vaccines to give up their place in the queue for deliveries. Manufacturers must deliver to COVAX in line with firm commitments, and countries that are well-advanced with vaccinations must expand and accelerate donations, ensuring doses are available in larger, more predictable volumes and with longer shelf lives.
About 95 million more doses are set to arrive in Africa via COVAX throughout September, which will be the largest shipment the continent receives for any month so far. Yet even as deliveries pick up, Africa has been able to fully vaccinate just 50 million people, or 3.6% of its people.
Around 2% of the nearly 6 billion doses given globally have been administered in Africa. The European Union and the United Kingdom have vaccinated over 60% of their people and high-income countries have administered 48 times more doses per person than low-income nations.
“The staggering inequity and severe lag in shipments of vaccines threatens to turn areas in Africa with low vaccination rates into breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants. This could end up sending the whole world back to square one,” said Dr Moeti.
WHO is ramping up support to African countries to identify and address gaps in their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. WHO has assisted 15 African countries in conducting intra-action reviews, which analyse all aspects of their vaccination campaigns and offer recommendations for improvements. The reviews have shown that vaccine supply security and uncertainty around deliveries has been a major impediment for many African countries.
With over 300 staff in place across Africa supporting the COVID-19 response, WHO is deploying experts and producing support plans in specific areas where countries need tailored assistance, including securing staff, financing, strengthening supply chains and logistics and boosting demand for vaccines.
As of 14 September 2021, there were 8.06 million COVID-19 cases recorded in Africa and while the third wave wanes, there were nearly 125 000 new cases in the week ending on 12 September. While this is a 27% drop from the previous week, weekly new cases are still at about the peak of the first wave and 19 countries continue to report high or fast-rising case numbers.
Deaths fell by 19% to 2531 reported in Africa in the week to September 12th. The highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 31 African countries. The Alpha variant has been detected in 44 countries and the Beta variant in 39.
Dr Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, Co-Chair of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance (AVDA), Ms Aurélia Nguyen, Managing Director, Office of the COVAX Facility, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Also on hand to respond to questions were Dr Richard Mihigo, Coordinator, Immunization and Vaccines Development Programme, WHO Regional Office for Africa, and Dr Thierno Balde, Regional COVID-19 Deputy Incident Manager, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Humphrey Karamagi, Senior Technical Officer, Health Systems Development, WHO Regional Officer for Africa.