By Sola Ogundipe
Africa needs at least 20 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the next six weeks to get second doses to all who received the first dose within the 8—12-week interval between doses recommended by the World Health Organisation, WHO.
In addition to this urgent need, another 200 million doses of any WHO Emergency Use Listed, EUL, COVID-19 vaccine are needed so that the continent can vaccinate 10 percent of its population by September 2021, following a call made by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the World Health Assembly,
Disclosing this on Thursday, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said Africa was in dire straits.
“As supplies dry up, dose-sharing is an urgent, critical, and short-term solution to ensuring that Africans at the greatest risk of COVID-19 get the much-needed protection.
Moeti who spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group stated that Africa needs vaccines now.
“Any pause in our vaccination campaigns will lead to lost lives and lost hope. It’s too soon to tell if Africa is on the cusp of a third wave.
“However, we know that cases are rising, and the clock is ticking so we urgently appeal to countries that have vaccinated their high-risk groups to speed up the dose-sharing to fully protect the most vulnerable people,” Moeti noted.
A single dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine gives around 70 percent protection for at least 12 weeks. Data on the protection from one dose after 12 weeks is limited, however, COVID-19 antibodies have been found in the body up to 6 months after one dose. The full course provided with a 12-week interval gives 81 percent protection for an extended period.
To date, 28 million COVID-19 doses, of different vaccines, have been administered in Africa, which represents less than two doses administered per 100 people in Africa. Globally, 1.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered.
France donated over 31,000 doses to Mauritania, another 74,400 set for delivery. France also pledged to share half a million more doses with six African countries in the next few weeks even as the EU and the Member States have pledged over 100 million doses for low-income countries by the end of 2021.
The US has pledged to share 80 million doses with lower-income countries, and other high-income countries have expressed interest in sharing vaccines. Expediting these pledges is crucial and the COVAX Facility is a proven tool for swift delivery.
African countries unable to use all their vaccines are sharing them across the continent. While this prevents vaccine wastage, redistributing doses is costly and countries must roll out all available doses as soon as possible. WHO is working closely with countries to improve vaccine rollout by optimizing delivery strategies and increasing uptake.
In the longer term, Africa must boost its manufacturing capacity for vaccines. Yet there is no quick-fix and putting the policies, processes, and partnerships in place may take years.