Scale up vaccination to beat the virus, African governments told

Saturday December 11 2021
Kusi Ideas Festival

Kusi Ideas Festival in Accra, Ghana. PHOTO | COURTESY

By Allan Olingo

African nations have been urged to scale up the vaccination campaigns for the continent to win the fight against Covid-19 and also fight off new variants. 

Speaking during the third edition of the Kusi Ideas festival currently ongoing in Accra, Ghana, Dr Sylvia Vito, the SAFRICA HEAD - Acceleration South Africa, Sub Sahara Africa, French Africa at AstraZeneca said that as much the African governments have done better in vaccinating their populations, there is still room to push for more people to be vaccinated. 

“We have to recognise the efforts done by governments. It’s been tough and the challenges we have faced a year later have exposed the vulnerability of the continent as unable to control its own destiny. We can still do better,” Dr Vito said. 

AstraZeneca has managed to offer two thirds of vaccines to third world countries, with 45 million doses distributed to Africa. The rest of the Mehta vaccines include those from Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and others. 

“We started out well, but with the Indian ban on vaccine exports, the vaccination campaign not just in Africa but the rest of the developing world slowed down. However, in the last two months, we have delivered 17.5 million vaccines across Africa,” she said.

According to Africa CDC, under 10 per cent of the continent's population has been fully vaccinated, against a target of 40 per cent as per the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation. The low vaccination numbers have been attributed to vaccine access that disfavor the continent coupled with apathy driven by myths and fears. 


“Yes, we do have barriers as a continent. But we also have to appreciate the efforts made and so much more to ensure the vulnerable aren’t exposed. As scientists, we can confirm that the latest variant is still within the containment of the testing, and vaccines available,” Dr Vito said. 

She added that “We need to see at least 40 per cent of the population vaccinated before we even think of booster shots. The booster conversation isn’t something Africa should even have. Instead, the continent should focus its attention in getting as many adults as possible to be vaccinated.”

Speaking at the panel discussion on the continent's vaccine acquisition, Dr John Mark Bwanika, the Director of Operations Rocket Health Africa, said that Covid has shown that Africa needs to move much faster than we were doing before. 

“The pandemic has given us a boost to improve our health infrastructure.  We need to pick lessons from unique vaccination rollouts across Africa with model countries like Rwanda leaving a lot to be emulated. We have seen misunderstandings in the rollout that slowed down the process, but now the exercise is picking up,“ Dr Bwanika said, adding that despite the vaccines coming later than the continent needed them, Africa needs to do more to push up the numbers. 

Charles Abugre, a member of the programme advisory committee at Christian Aid, lamented the cost of vaccine acquisition for the continent, terming it as unsustainable. 

“We are paying far more for the vaccines than the rich countries. At $10 a dose, that’s too much for the continent to bear. This is despite the huge public costs that went into the vaccines,” Mr Abugre said. 

He added; “We recognise the need for the vaccine manufacturers to make a return for investment but there must me a limit. Vaccines economics demand that we must aggressively support the governments that seek to manufacture vaccines to make them affordable.”

The panelist also slammed the West over the current vaccine politics, which they said was a repeat to the 1990s’  HIV/AIDS ARVs access fight. 

“As we can now see, there is a vaccine apartheid against Africa and we need vaccine justice. At this point, we need to retain every dollar to invest within the continent. And that’s why we must ask for low vaccination costs,” Mr Abugre said, adding that “western countries have failed to live up to their promise. We were told no one is safe until we all are fully vaccinated. And yet we see vaccine hoarding and this puts us in a bad position. How then do we achieve the numbers when we don’t have the support to access vaccines?”

The panelist also waded into the current afrophobia that has seen parts of Southern Africa red listed by over 30 countries over the latest Omnicron variant terming it as ‘unfortunate and illogical.”

“Any form of Virus will always mutate and scientists know this. The closure of borders is less to do with science and more of political. We are proud of what the scientists did is laudable. Mutations happen but we should be okay that omicron is not an escapable variant-from testing and vaccination,”Dr Vito said.