WHO says vaccine hoarding could derail Africa’s fight against COVID-19

File: Vaccine ready for application against SARS-COV-2. Getty Images
Vaccine ready for application against SARS-COV-2. Getty Images

The fight against COVID-19 pandemic in Africa could suffer setbacks amid inadequate access to vaccines occasioned by hoarding by rich nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa said that COVID-19 vaccines’ buying frenzy by rich economies might limit access in the continent and undermine efforts to contain the pandemic.

“We first, not me first is the only way to end the pandemic. Vaccine hoarding will only prolong the ordeal and delay Africa’s recovery,” Moeti said in a statement issued in Nairobi.

Statistics from WHO indicate that 40 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have so far been administered in 50 mostly high-income countries while in Africa, Guinea is the only country that has inoculated 25 people against the virus.

At the same time, the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles that is considered a high-income country is the only one in Africa that has started a national vaccination campaign.

Moeti said that Africa is yet to buffer itself fully from the risk of COVID-19 hence the need for the international community and pharmaceutical giants to address imbalances in vaccine access.

“Health workers and vulnerable people in Africa need urgent access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines,” said Moeti.

She said that the WHO vaccine introduction readiness assessment tool indicates that African countries are on average 42 percent ready to conduct mass inoculation and required massive investments to attain the 80 percent threshold.

“We have partnered with African countries to develop vaccine delivery plans and address vaccine hesitancy,” said Moeti, adding that the continent must sustain containment measures like testing, contact tracing and isolation that will complement inoculations in the quest to defeat the pandemic.

Plans are in the pipeline to vaccinate at least 20 percent of the African population by the end of 2021 through the COVAX facility which is funded by WHO and partners.

Thabani Maphosa, managing director, Country Programs at the Vaccine Alliance GAVI said the initial batch of 30 million doses is expected to arrive in the continent by March to help inoculate 3 percent of the population while priority will be given to healthcare workers, the elderly and terminally ill.

“There is a sense of urgency to deliver COVID-19 vaccines in Africa that meet key parameters like safety and efficacy,” said Maphosa.

“Countries should leverage on existing infrastructure and experience with immunization to expedite the process of vaccinating the population against the pandemic,” he added.