Africa’s already thin supply of COVID-19 vaccines has taken another significant hit, with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Africa director saying on Thursday that for various reasons, including the rollout of booster shots, “we will receive 25% fewer doses than we were waiting for the end of the year. “
Matshidiso Moeti’s comments to journalists came when the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said that just over 3% of people across the African continent have been fully vaccinated. That coverage drops to about 1.7% in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the WHO.
African health officials are appalled by Wednesday’s announcement that global COVAX efforts to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries are once again lowering delivery forecasts.
That review, Moeti told reporters, is “in part because of the prioritization of bilateral agreements over international solidarity.”
The COVAX challenges, together with the export controls of vaccine doses and the introduction of booster shots from certain countries, “really mean that in the end there must be an estimate, a forecast that we will receive 25% fewer doses than we expected before the end of the year, she says.
Moeti noted that while COVAX has delivered over 5 million vaccine doses to African countries in the past week, “three times as many doses have been discarded in the United States alone” since March.
“Every dose is precious,” Moeti said. “If companies and countries prioritize vaccine value, this pandemic would be over quickly.” The WHO says that the goal of vaccinating 10% of people in Africa by the end of this month is missed.
The goal is to vaccinate 40% by the end of the year. The Africa CDC says that 145 million vaccine doses have been procured across the continent with 1.3 billion people, and 111 million of them, or 77%, have been administered. But much more is needed, and the launch of booster shots from some richer countries, including the United States, has caused alarm.
On Wednesday, the WHO’s Director General called for a delay in the administration of boosters until the end of the year to address sharp inequalities in the vaccine. “The problem with the third (booster) doses is that we have not seen enough science behind it” when needed, “Africa CDC chief John Nkengasong told reporters on Thursday.
“Without it, we’re playing … It’s still confusing to me why we’re moving towards a big recommendation for the third dose.” He said he fully understands that people with vulnerable immune systems need to increase their protection, but for “otherwise healthy individuals, I just have not seen enough science.”
African countries have recently seen a strong revival in delta-driven cases, but the WHO Africa director reported a 25% drop in new cases last week, “the sharpest decline in eight weeks since the peak in July.”
With the world’s lowest vaccine coverage, however, the continent is vulnerable to another strong existence or even another variant of the coronavirus, as the highly infectious delta variant is already causing outbreaks in many African countries.