Claim: Africa ill prepared for Covid-19 vaccine roll out

Source: UNICEF/Nahom Tesfaye. A health worker prepares a vaccine injection for administration. (file photo)
The Claim: Africa is ill prepared for Covid-19 vaccine roll out
The Verdict: claim verdict

Verdict: Fact

As the race to develop an effective Covid-19 vaccine continues, developed countries are eyeing a mass roll out to prevent further spread but Africa seems ill prepared to access the vaccine.

So far, reports say three Covid-19 vaccines now show efficacy rates of 70 percent or more.

Last week Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) urged African countries to improve their capacity to vaccinate populations against Covid-19, warning the continent was still “far from ready” for mass immunisation.

In a statement, WHO noted Africa is only 33 percent ready to roll out Covid-19 vaccines basing it on data provided by 40 countries on a series of “readiness criteria” that was well below a desired 80 percent benchmark.

The main concerns are a lack of adequate funding plans, monitoring tools and community outreach.

In an interview with CITE, Executive Director of Community Working Group on Health (CWGH), Itai Rusike, said Africa has never been ready to buy vaccines and secondly, not ready either to support its own vaccine production.

“The continent has always been donor funded by organisations such as Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance in sourcing for vaccines. (GAVI is a public–private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.)

“This is so due to the nature of vaccines, which is they are very expensive and cost a lot to buy those vaccines. Unfortunately Africa is not financially equipped. Look at vaccines for children under 5 years, immunisations and others we always receive support,” he said.

 Rusike is a public health activist with almost 20 years’ experience organising involvement of communities in health actions in Zimbabwe.

The public health expert noted that since Covid-19 is a global public health threat, there should be advocacy for the vaccine’s accessibility.

“Some of us have been advocating that the Covid-19 vaccine be made accessible everywhere. We have also been pushing for a waiver on its patent law, that is when someone develops a drug but they patent it so they can make more money. But since Covid-19 concerns public health systems, we are saying allow Africa to make the vaccine here in Africa,” he said.

Rusike said it was ideal for Covid-19 vaccines to be made accessible especially to poor African countries

“Developed countries such as the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) are already buying the vaccine in millions for their own people, what about us poor people? At the moment the vaccine is not cheap and what developed countries don’t know is there is risk of reinfections due to open air travel. Africans will still travel to those countries and that may result in more reinfections,” said the public health expert.

“There is a need for solidarity when it comes to fighting Covid-19 and support for poor countries. Let’s have universal coverage and make everyone safe. As long as travel is permitted infections will occur as some cannot afford the vaccine. Countries such as the US,  UK and Japan should appreciate that the vaccine must be made available.”

Reports said WHO estimated that rolling out a Covid-19 vaccine to just priority populations in Africa will cost around US$5.7 billion while African countries would be partially subsidised by the COVAX global Covid-19 distribution scheme.

The World Bank has reportedly also set aside US$12 billion to help developing countries finance their immunisation programmes.

During a virtual press briefing last week, WHO Africa Director, Matshidiso Moeti, said the aim was to vaccinate three percent of Africa’s population by March 2021 against Covid-19 and 20 percent by the end of the year.

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