Africa glares at an insurgence of variants due to vaccines shortfall

AFRICA – The goal of vaccinating 40 percent of Africa’s population against coronavirus by December appears elusive as the continent grapples with cutbacks on doses supplied through multilateral platforms, the WHO has said.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said the continent faces a nearly 500 million vaccine shortfalls, as the COVAX facility slashes 150 million doses that were slated for delivery this year.

Only 17 percent of the continent’s population will now be vaccinated by the end of this year, compared with the 40 percent target set by the World Health Organization, the global agency’s Africa unit said at its weekly briefing in the Congolese capita of Brazzaville.

The staggering inequity and severe lag in shipments of vaccines threatens to turn areas in Africa … into breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa director. “This could end up sending the whole world back to square one.”

Due to global shortages, the Covax alliance set up to ensure equitable delivery of jabs, will ship about 150 million fewer doses of vaccine to Africa than planned.

Taking into account this shortfall, the 470 million doses of vaccine now expected in Africa will allow only 17 percent of the population to be fully protected, the WHO’s regional office said.

“As long as rich countries lock Covax out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals,” Moetti said.

The reduction in the vaccination target comes as Africa passes the eight million mark in infections this week, the WHO said.

About 95 million doses should have been received in Africa via Covax during September, but despite the resumption of shipments, “Africa has only been able to vaccinate 50 million people, or 3.6 percent of its population,” says WHO Africa.

The Covax international funding mechanism is supposed to allow 92 disadvantaged states and territories to receive free vaccines funded by more prosperous nations. 

Last week, it revised its forecasts downwards, explaining the lack of doses “by export bans, the priority given to bilateral agreements between manufacturers and countries, delays in filing applications for approval”, among other reasons.

As of 14 September 2021, there were 8.06 million COVID-19 cases recorded in Africa and while the third wave wanes, there were nearly 125 000 new cases in the week ending on 12 September.

While this is a 27% drop from the previous week, weekly new cases are still at about the peak of the first wave and 19 countries continue to report high or fast-rising case numbers.

Deaths fell by 19% to 2531 reported in Africa in the week to September 12th. The highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 31 African countries. The Alpha variant has been detected in 44 countries and the Beta variant in 39. 

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