Uncertain future for Africa as COVID-19 vaccines shortage bites
The coronavirus (COVID 19) vaccine delay in the continent is expected to continue through the third quarter of 2021.
According to Dr. Rebecca Moeti, Regional Director World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa Regional Office, the COVAX initiative hit a snug after India stopped exportation of jabs as infections cases.
With the current crisis in India, Serum Institute of India (SII) that manufactures vaccines is unable to meet demand for the vaccines.
“We understand that there are vaccine delays across the continent. Second doses are due yet we are yet to receive new shipments. However we understand that due to the dire health circumstances in India, the Serum Institute is unable to manufacture as many doses as we would need. As such the delay is likely to progress through the second and into the third quarter of the year,” said Dr. Moeti
Africa lags behind
According to the WHO Africa, the continent still lags behind in vaccination. Only 2 out of 10 people have been vaccinated while in developed countries 8 out of 10 have been vaccinated.
Seychelles tops the charts having vaccinated 67 percent of its population with Morocco second at 25 percent and Mauritius third at 17 percent. While there are African countries that have hit vaccination milestones, 4 African countries are yet to begin vaccinations.
Dr. Richard Mihigo Program Area Manager Immunization and Vaccine Development, WHO Africa, attributes the slow vaccination across the continent to vaccine hoarding and accessibility challenges.
However, Dr. Mihigo says the global health body is working to acquire alternative vaccines for Africans as the COVAX AstraZeneca delay is being sorted out.
“We have finished negotiating with Moderna and 500 million doses of the vaccines shall be delivered to the continent. We expect the first batch in the third quarter of 2021 totaling 47 million disses. Further, we have also closed a deal with Novavax from the third quarter. Further we have also seen rich countries pledge to donate vaccines with America leading the donation list with 80 million doses,” says Dr. Mihigo.
Access to vaccines
Besides global accessibility, other challenges hinder local access to vaccines. According to Dina Ringold Regional Director, Human Development West and Central Africa at the World Bank, challenges such as energy needed to store the vaccine safely, logistics as 60 cents of every vaccine dollar is spent on it, human resource and community engagement are a stumbling block towards mass vaccination.
Further, while the continent now awaits for arrival of new shipments by the third quarter of the year, the World Bank terms the wait for vaccines as a costly endeavor. “Every month of COVID-19 vaccine delay costs the continent 14 billion dollars in GDP,” says Dina.
While 2020 was marked by synchronized slow down, 2021 is characterized by uneven growth due to vaccine accessibility.
According to Razia Khan, Chief Economist and Head of Research Africa and Middle East, Standard Chartered Bank, “While the rest of the world has begun its economic recovery, Africa is yet to begin. The uneven pace of global economic growth poses a risk to Africa. For example we have not seen new significant capital outflow from Africa.”
With economic powerhouses such as America and China on a positive growth trajectory the fate of Africa’s economic growth remains unknown amid vaccine delays. However, Dina maintains, “only once the pandemic is contained in every country will it be contained everywhere.”