African countries are scheduled to start mass roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines, following months of complaints about modern-day ‘apartheid’ on accessing pandemic fighting tools.
Delivered through the Covax Facility, Africa expects to receive 90 million doses before the end of April, setting off mass vaccination campaigns beginning this week.
Many countries across the continent have paid a much higher cost per dose compared to the West. Kenya, Ghana and others have paid $7 per dose, while South Africa paid for $5.25 per dose, nearly $3 more than the West.
Some government officials have explained that they were told the West was receiving discounts for investing in ‘research and development’ of the vaccines, hence they were the priority recipients and they got them at discounted rates.
In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta was expected to launch vaccine roll-out on Friday before health workers are given the jabs. Kenya received 1.02 million doses from the Covax facility.
In West Africa, even as governments think of how to secure sufficient doses of Covid-19 vaccines for their citizens, there are lingering concerns around acceptability.
Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal are among the few countries that have begun inoculating their citizens.
Ghana became the first African county to receive vaccines through the COVAX facility last month. Nigeria has also received 3.9 million doses out of the scheduled 42 million doses under the arrangement.
In the wider Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the target is to secure 240 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines through a revolving fund launched in January, in addition to the COVAX scheme run under the World Health Organization.
Member States have until June to start vaccination, but storage is major concern for many countries in the region as some of the vaccines require controlled refrigeration.
Sierra Leone has received only 200,000 doses of Chinese manufactured vaccine as a donation. The government says it is expecting 630,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the UN supported COVAX scheme.
Even though it hasn’t announced any date to commence vaccination, the government says its plan is to target people aged 70 years and above and those with co-morbid conditions, as well as frontline and essential workers (healthcare and security workers).
The Ministry of Health says it wants to reach 20 percent of the population in the next few weeks. But just over 700,000 doses is a drop in the ocean for a country with a population of over seven million people.
Last week a senior communications officer in the Office of the President issued a statement distancing himself from a social media post by a critic bearing a common name, who questioned the efficacy and safety of the Chinese vaccine. The author called for the vaccine to be used on Chinese nationals in the country first as a way of proving its safety before being used on Sierra Leoneans.
And it began on Tuesday after Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo publicly took the jab to allay public fears over its safety.
The Democratic Republic of Congo received a batch of 1.7 million doses that will be administered initially in the four provinces of Kinshasa, Kongo-Central, Haut-Katanga and North Kivu where more cases of the virus were reported compared other parts of the country.
According to the Congolese Ministry of Health, vaccination will not, initially, be mandatory with only three groups being prioritised—health professionals and social workers, people suffering from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and people over the age of 55, who represent 6 per cent of the population.
But the public has been wary of the vaccine’s safety.
Last week, there was panic in Bukavu after reports falsely circulated of pupils being forced to take the jab. The DR Congo, which has experienced various outbreaks of Ebola, has had to fight false claims that vaccines are Western imports to curtail African population growth.
Since the first Covid-19 case was reported in the country in March last year, 711 people have died out of 26,000 recorded cases. The country's authorities stepped up measures to prevent a large-scale spread of the pandemic, including a curfew imposed at various times, which was only lifted two weeks ago.
In Nigeria, the four million doses of AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, also shipped through the COVAX Facility, will be administered under the watch of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA.
Africa’s most populous country had reported more than 150,000 cases and 1,800 deaths.
Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Director General of the Nigeria’s National Council for Disease Control (NCDC), said Nigeria was ready to roll out the vaccination immediately.
In Khartoum, Sudanese Health Minister Omar al-Najib said that 828,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine had, by Wednesday, arrived in the country. The country expects to start vaccination next week giving priority to the sick as well as medical staff. Another batch is due in by mid-March, according to Mr al-Najib, which will target the group of citizens aged 45 or older. More than 28,000 people have been infected by the Coronavirus in Sudan and more than 1,800 have died, according to official figures.
UNICEF said in a statement that Sudan has requested 17 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines through Covax to cover 8.5 million people, representing 20 percent of its population.
“These doses will arrive in two shipments: one in March 2021 targeting healthcare workers, and persons aged 45 or older with medical conditions and living in areas with high transmission or anticipated high transmission, across the country and the rest expected in the second quarter of 2021,” UNICEF said.
Sudan is expected to have received 3.4 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of March.
(Reporting by Patrick Ilunga, Mohammed Momoh, Mawahib Abdallatif)