Covid vaccine rollout a ‘mess’ as shortages hit Africa

Thursday, May 6th, 2021 00:00 |
A Medical worker holding a jab of the AstraZeneca Vaccine. PHOTO/COURTESY

Dr Abdiqani Sheikh Omar

Africa is running out of Covid-19 vaccine supplies amid rising concern over the availability of the doses.

So far, seven countries have exhausted their stock received from the UN-backed Covax distribution scheme and others have not used their vaccines before the expiry date.

Ghana and Rwanda have administered nearly all the shots received and it remains unclear when further doses will arrive, raising fears people may miss out on second vaccine. Covax’s initial delivery projections have been hit by supply problems. 

The move largely cut off supply from the Serum Institute India (SII), which had been set to manufacture two thirds of vaccines delivered by Covax by June.

Shortages due to India’s export restrictions have been felt in 60 countries across the globe, but the most acute impact has been in Africa.

Africa has so far administered about 17.5 million vaccines – less than two per cent of global rollout – for a population of 1.2 billion. 

Deliveries of vaccine supplies under Covax started in February, and most African countries have signed up and received the doses.

Some are also getting donations from China, Russia, the UAE and India. The Covax initiative has delivered 18 million doses to 41 African countries, according to WHO. A few countries have not joined in.

But WHO says Rwanda, Senegal, Ghana, Togo, Tunisia, eSwatini and Botswana have exhausted initial supplies from Covax and will need to wait until up to mid-next month for more. 

South Africa changed its mind against using AstraZeneca and switched to Johnson and Johnson vaccine which they say is more efficient in fighting their Covid variant.

But several other countries which were given the AstraZeneca doses did not use them before the expiry date of April 13.

Malawi was left with about 16,000 out of 102,000 doses, while South Sudan was left with 59,000. Ghana and Sierra Leone were also left with some doses.

WHO has advised the countries to store the vaccines pending further guidance, rather than dispose of them.

The manufacturer, SII, says the vaccines could still be used for three months after the expiry date, although WHO has yet to endorse this.

WHO advised Africa to continue using AstraZeneca vaccine, which makes up the majority of doses supplied under Covax. Europe and UK health authorities linked unusual blood clots with the jab.

A few African countries put the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine on hold as a precaution. Currently only Chad and Zimbabwe declined to use the vaccine. 

A study by Africa CDC on vaccine perceptions in 15 countries found a significant proportion of people had concerns around vaccine safety.

About 20 per cent of the respondents said they would not take the vaccine, with the number varying considerably across countries featured in the study, which also showed some respondents tended to view vaccines as less safe than vaccines in general.

This could be caused partly by issues around distributing the vaccines and the lack of health workers to administer them. But there are fears vaccine hesitancy and skepticism could be playing a role like the case in Sierra Leone and Malawi. 

Africa’s other hurdles in the vaccination journey include: Limited stocks and supply bottlenecks; Operational and financial hurdles; Difficulties reaching remote locations; Africa playing vaccination catch-up; Lack of supply chain infrastructure to store, transport and deliver; Not meeting the requirement of maintaining a cold chain ranging from 2°C to -80°C; and Identifying the priority populations and vaccinating them.

Countries need to invest heavily in matters research for sustenance, innovation to stay abreast with the many happenings in the world. — The writer is medical doctor based in Somalia

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