Without Vaccine Boost, Many African Nations May Not Meet W.H.O. Goal

Only seven African nations, most of them small, are likely to meet the World Health Organization’s goal of allowing every country around the world to vaccinate 10 percent of its population against the coronavirus by September, the agency said on Thursday. The prospect is dire for a continent where vaccine supplies are running low and governments are battling infection resurgence.

The global health agency said vaccination rates remained at about 2 percent across the continent – and about 1 percent in sub-Saharan Africa – even though some wealthy nations around the world injected the majority of their populations. To hit the 10 percent target for every country on the continent, Africa would need an additional 225 million doses, said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa. A total of nine out of ten African nations will miss this global vaccination target, the agency estimates.

The seven countries are Seychelles, Morocco, Mauritius, Equatorial Guinea, Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe and Zimbabwe. Another six countries – Tunisia; Ghana; Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland; Lesotho; Rwanda; and Kenya – could meet the target if they get enough care to keep up with their current vaccination pace, the WHO said.

“This is going to take a really massive effort,” said Dr. Moeti agreed, saying that “without a significant increase” in vaccine availability, “many African lives are at stake”.

The announcement came as Africa will surpass five million virus cases, with Covid having claimed 133,000 lives to date. While testing is often limited in countries across the continent, known cases have also increased, with 94,145 new cases reported in the past week – a 26 percent increase from the previous week – according to the African Centers for Control and Prevention of Diseases.

Countries like Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia have reported spikes in cases, while some, like Uganda, have reinstated lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus. The Africa CDC also said deaths on the continent increased 2 percent in the past week, and many more countries have reported that the variants first reported in South Africa, the UK and India have been detected.

And as cases and deaths rise, many African nations have reported that most of the vaccines they received through Covax, a global vaccine initiative, have been depleted. The WHO. said 14 African nations used between 80 percent and 100 percent of their cans.

Still, only 35.9 million doses of Covid vaccine have been given on the continent, according to the Africa CDC, with most being given in a few countries including Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa, as well as the Western Sahara region. Tanzania, Eritrea and Burundi have yet to give a single injection, while Togo and Chad only started giving vaccinations last week.

While some countries faced bottlenecks, others did not launch campaigns quickly. Twenty nations have used less than half of their doses, the WHO estimates, while 12 nations have more than 10 percent of their doses before they expire.

But on Thursday both WHO and Africa CDC welcomed President Biden’s decision to donate 500 million Pfizer BioNTech vaccines to poorer nations, including those in the African Union. Countries like France and companies like Mastercard have also promised to fund, deliver or help manufacture Covid vaccines on the continent.

“It’s a monumental step forward,” said Dr. Moeti on the US effort Mr Biden announced in Europe on Thursday. “We are now seeing wealthy nations begin to turn promises into action. The hope for a common future without Covid-19 begins to shine a little brighter. “

The vaccines are slated to start shipping in August, with 200 million doses expected to be shipped by the end of this year, while the other 300 million will be shipped early next year, according to a White House data sheet.

Dr. Africa CDC director John Nkengasong welcomed the decision but said he did not know when and how many vaccines Africa would receive. However, he urged member states to prepare storage facilities for the Pfizer vaccine and give priority to major cities as soon as these doses arrive. As an example, he cited Rwanda, which he believed had received over 102,000 doses of Pfizer and introduced it quickly.

“We have to use a combination of vaccines to win this fight against Covid-19,” Nkengasong said in a press conference on Thursday. “We are at war and you are going to war with what you have, not what you need.”