VACCINATION RACE: WHERE IS AFRICA?

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Vaccination race. This magazine was planned early last year with no inkling that a few months later the world would be engulfed by a health crisis that has not only revealed weaknesses in healthcare systems in countries both rich and poor but has demonstrated that the difference between good and bad governance can quite literally be a matter of life and death. Covid 19 caught the world by surprise, although scientists had repeatedly warned that a pandemic of this nature was possible, even likely. Nevertheless, the scale of the health, economic, and social consequences would have been unimaginable to most of us a year ago.

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Vaccination race Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Continental measures have since been inconsistent within and across countries. Global solidarity mechanisms and allocated funds have not come close to the predicted need: in May 2020, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs indicated that less than 15% of the estimated $6.7 billion needed to respond to the public health and humanitarian consequences of this pandemic had not been met. Moreover, challenges in global response coordination have not been helped by the United States (US), the World Health Organization’s main contributing member, undermining the agency’s credibility through accusations of mismanagement and withdrawal of funding at such a crucial time.

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As always, across the world, the most vulnerable have borne the brunt of this latest health crisis, COVID-19 has simply further highlighted and exacerbated existing inequalities. Africa has so far seen controversial and even dramatic policy measures in response to the coronavirus crisis. From Tanzania withholding infection and fatality data as the government pushed conspiracy theories, to Egypt’s clampdown on citizens disagreeing with the government’s handling of the pandemic, to Madagascar’s promotion of a botanical brew as an antidote without following the standard scientific approval steps, the continent has had its share of the blunders that have helped exacerbate the crisis globally.

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How has the vaccine rollout progressed?

In Africa, only about two doses of the vaccine have been administered per 100 people, compared with an average of 68 doses per 100 in high-income countries. And less than 1% of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated. Deliveries of vaccine supplies under the WHO-backed Covax program started in February 2021, and most countries in Africa signed up and received vaccine doses. Some countries are also getting donations from China, Russia, India, and the UAE.

Only Tanzania, Burundi, and Eritrea are yet to receive vaccines. Now, some countries have exhausted the initial vaccine supplies they received from the Covax scheme, while others have had a slow uptake of jabs.

Seven African countries have used up all of the vaccines they received through Covax and another seven have administered over 80%. But 23 countries have used less than half of the doses they have received so far, including four countries now seeing a resurgence in cases. There are now more than a million AstraZeneca doses in 18 countries that need to be used before their expiry at the end of August.

What happened to vaccinations in South Africa?

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South Africa, the only country on the continent hit hardest by a coronavirus, has been slow to administer Covid-19 vaccines. The Government says it was caused by factors out of its control. It delayed an initial vaccination plan using the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns about its efficacy against a new variant of coronavirus. It sold on the doses of the vaccine it had bought from India to the African Union, which distributed the doses elsewhere.

It started vaccinating on 17 February after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is administered as a single dose and has been shown to be effective against the variant. But the program was put on hold in Mid-April because of concerns about rare blood clot cases in the US. Vaccinations resumed in late April. It started vaccinating using Pfizer vaccine in mid-Ma. So far more than two million out of the population of 59 million in South Africa have been vaccinated –about half a million of them with Johnson & Johnson.

It remains to be seen how far will Africa go in vaccinating its people, in comparison with other countries in the West and East.

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