AFRICA – Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) director John Nkengasong has urged wealthy countries to send vaccines to Africa to help fight the global COVID-19 pandemic rather than hoarding them for third-dose booster shots that scientific evidence does not back.
Wealthy countries such as Germany, France and Israel are planning to administer third shots, over concerns that immunity from the standard two-shot regimen is waning.
French President Emmanuel Macron said France was working on rolling out third doses to the elderly and vulnerable from September.
Germany intends to give boosters to immunocompromised patients, the very elderly and nursing home residents from September, the health ministry said.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a statement urged older citizens to get a third shot after the government last month kicked off a campaign to give booster doses.
This, being despite multiple WHO advisories to discontinue booster shots in order to achieve vaccine equality, a situation Nkengasong termed as baffling.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on Wednesday for a halt to boosters until at least the end of September, saying it was unacceptable for rich countries to use more of the global vaccine supply.
High-income countries administered around 50 doses for every 100 people in May, and that number has since doubled, according to WHO. Low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people, due to lack of supplies.
The outcry comes shortly after COVAX, the global programme providing COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries, announced they were on course to fall nearly 30% short of previous goal of delivering 2 billion shots this year.
COVAX programme equally urged rich countries that had met their domestic needs to forfeit volumes rather than administer third shots.
Later on, WHO’s Africa head Matshidiso Moeti reiterated calls for wealthy countries with vaccines supplies that are well beyond their population’s needs, to share them.
“We are advocating for them to provide these through COVAX to low-income countries,” she said adding that it is urgent for Africa to catch up in vaccinating its people.
Nkengasong said third shot programmes would make it hard for Africa to meet its target for vaccinating 60% to 70% of people, for which it needed at least 1.6 billion doses.
Currently, only 3% of the continent were vaccinated, he said, while 145.4 million vaccine doses have been procured across the continent, of which three quarters have already been administered.
In the meantime, the coronavirus continues to evolve, as it courses through unvaccinated populations, he said; “Today it’s the Delta variant, tomorrow we just don’t know which variant will be out there.”
Africa has recorded 7.9 million cases, of which 201,000 have been fatal, according to data published by the Africa CDC.