Few African countries ready for Covid-19 vaccine

Saturday November 28 2020
Hospital in South Africa.

Doctors at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa. Six senior clinicians at Wits University have volunteered to participate in South Africa’s first Covid-19 vaccine trial. PHOTO | AFP

By Elizabeth Merab

Only three in 10 African countries are ready to deploy a Covid-19 vaccine, according to a new World Health Organisation analysis. This means Africa is not ready for what will be the continent’s largest-ever immunisation drive.

As the race for a vaccine nears the end, the WHO is calling on African countries to come up with plans and systems to carry out the Covid-19 vaccinations efficiently when the doses become available. According to the analyses which are based on country self-reports, Africa has an average score of 33 percent readiness for a Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, which is well below the desired benchmark of 80 percent.

“An 80 percent weightage shows a country can safely deploy a vaccine with maximum safety while the current 33 percent weightage for Africa means that countries need to bring up the areas of immunisations that are still lagging behind,” said Dr Richard Mihigo, WHO’s Program Area Manager, Immunisation and Vaccine Development.

The findings come at a time when AstraZeneca and its partner, the University of Oxford, announced on Monday that it was seeking regulatory approval for the vaccine after it showed an average 70 percent effectiveness. That rate jumped to 90 percent when an initial half-dose then a full dose was given, close to that in rival vaccines in development by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna which announced their messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines reached 95 percent efficacy in clinical trials of tens of thousands of people. The firms added that the trials showed no serious safety concerns.

Speaking during a WHO weekly webinar, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO-Africa regional director said agency’s vaccine readiness assessment tool intended to be used by Ministries of Health has been issued to all 47 countries in the WHO African region.

The tool provides a roadmap for countries to plan for Covid-19 vaccine introduction and covers 10 key areas: Planning and co-ordination, resources and funding, vaccine regulations, service delivery, training and supervision, monitoring and evaluation, vaccine logistics, vaccine safety and surveillance.