Africa’s Covid-19 twist: Ready for vaccination but not enough doses

Saturday September 18 2021
 Covid-19 vaccination

Phase 1 of the Covid-19 vaccination drive at a hospital, in Nairobi, Kenya, in April. Millions more still await their first shot. PHOTO | FILE


Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine acceptance is being ranked significantly high in a region that has ironically struggled to access the doses for its 1.2 billion people.

These details emerged Wednesday during a joint press briefing by the World Health Organisation and the African Union on plans to acquire more jabs.

The revelations indicate that as many as seven in every 10 Africans accept the need for a vaccine to tackle the pandemic, higher than the average view in the US.

“We want to be able to distribute 27 million vaccines every month because there’s no vaccine hesitancy in Africa,” Dr Vera Songwe, the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa told the media in a virtual press conference.

The briefing came as the African Union argued for own local production of vaccines, having been tired with waiting in the line.

“To be fair, vaccine manufacturers were given restrictions, they are not selling to us which is why we will now have to solve this by manufacturing our own.


We ask again for intellectual property rights to be made available to us,” Strive Masiyiwa, the African Union special envoy on Covid-19 said.

Initial problem

The Africa CDC said its data showed that there is a huge interest in vaccines among Africans, with small pockets of resistance seen in Burkina Faso, but which the organisation says could improve as time goes.

“Vaccine hesitancy in Africa is not an issue, there’s 75 per cent acceptance in Africa apart from Burkina Faso compared with the US where acceptance is 60 per cent,” Africa CDC Director, Dr John Nkengasong said.

AU member states have ordered 56.9 million more Johnson and Johnson (J&J) doses than the 220 million doses they had planned for under the advance purchase agreement (APA) with J&J.

The total number of vaccines committed to AU member states is 205.4 million doses, worth about $130 million.

The initial problem had been thought to be vaccine hesitancy as seen in South Sudan and the DR Congo who had to donate their initial doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to Kenya to avoid their expiry on the shelf. At the time, both countries argued there had been a slow uptake as people stayed away unsure of what vaccines can do.

New wave of infections

Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda are among countries who have since received more doses of the Johnson & Johnson, as well as AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer. The doses include those donated by the US and several other countries. The continent generally struggled to access the doses and relied on the Covax facility under the World Health Organisation.

However, when main supplier of AstraZeneca, India, faced own domestic new wave of Covid-19, the supply dried. Africa had to shift to other sources, under Covax as well as other purchase arrangements through the African Union.

The AU says vaccines are allocated based on the size of each country’s population but observed that Algeria , Burundi , Central African Republic , Chad, The Comoros, Djibouti ,Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia are yet to express interest in Johnson & Johnson.

Cape Verde, Libya, Madagascar, South Sudan, Tanzania, Morocco, Mali, Eswatini and Seychelles have indicated interest but not committed to the doses.

This means that 24 AU members have ordered and fulfilled delivery and down payment requirements.

Dr Nkengasong announced that 12.2 million doses will be delivered to 33 AU and three CARICOM countries by the end of October.

Last month WHO Africa regional director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said that Covid-19 vaccinations in the region had tripled though protecting even 10 percent of the continent by the end of September remains “a very daunting task.”

“This is a preventable tragedy if African countries can get fair access to the vaccines.”

Booster shot surprise

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus then said it was unconscionable that some countries are now offering booster shots while so many people remain unprotected.

“Over 5.7 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, but only 2 per cent were given in Africa. This hurts all of us,” Dr Tedros said in an official tweet this week.

“I think it is very difficult for us to talk about booster doses in Africa,” Dr Moeti added in agreement with Dr Tedros.

“We have not covered even 5 percent of the population yet with the initial vaccinations that are needed to slow down the spread of the virus and most importantly, stop what we think might be a fourth wave which is coming.”

Experts in the region are in agreement with the officials.

“The perceived vaccine hesitancy in Africa doesn’t hold water, rather it is the lack of vaccines that is denying people in Africa the chance to be protected from the continued threat and devastation of the coronavirus pandemic,” Dr Ahmed Kalebi a consultant pathologist based in Nairobi told The EastAfrican on Wednesday.

“We have to balance and say if Covax is not delivering everything, how far we can push the bilateral route. I do not think there’s much room for AVAT (the AU vaccine procurement platform) to deliver the Johnson and Johnson doses they promised on time at the moment because both AVAT and Covax rely on the same manufacturers.

The vaccine that is available in India that we can use is AstraZeneca and India is at the moment increasing doses that have been pre-booked by Covax and so we cannot rely on them to deliver bilaterally,” Dr Gitahi Githinji, Amref Health Africa CEO said in a telephone interview.

The most vulnerable

“Even if Covax and AVAT delivered their initially promised number of doses to African countries, there is no way we could reasonably get to 60-70 per cent of the population vaccinated until 2023.”

“So with the recent setbacks, we may actually never get to our target as a country even beyond 2023 as the pandemic would have evolved. I would opine that right now the priority for Kenya and African countries is to get their most vulnerable members of the society vaccinated including the elderly, those with co-morbidities that make them more susceptible to severe Covid, and the frontline workers who are most exposed and at risk of contracting infection,” Dr Kalebi added.