African health officials are calling for better coordination to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are distributed quickly to all African countries.
Vaccine supply has exceeded demand for the first time since the pandemic began two years ago. But health officials at a conference in Nigeria on Wednesday said a lack of refrigeration and poor infrastructure were major challenges to vaccine equity.
The African Union’s Vaccine Delivery Alliance organized the conference to highlight the barriers that many African countries face in delivering COVID-19 vaccines to their citizens.
AU Community Engagement Officer, Tian Johnson, said, “What we see through the magnifying glass of COVID-19 before us is the fruit of decades of deteriorating health at the country level. The fact is that as Africans We must be absolutely sure that we do not leave anyone behind.”
About 20 percent of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, a poor record compared to many Western countries, where vaccination rates are 70 percent or better.
lack of infrastructure
Many African countries, including Nigeria, lack the infrastructure and cooling systems to store large quantities of vaccines.
Last year, Nigeria ran out of up to 1 million doses of COVID vaccines, the single highest number of any country.
Officials said the vaccination gap has been made worse by a lack of funding, which limits African countries’ ability to properly receive and distribute vaccines.
A February publication by COVAX – the global vaccine program supported by WHO and Gavi – showed that low-income countries requested only 100 million doses of the 436 million vaccines available.
In Nigeria, where only 6 percent of the population is vaccinated, officials also struggle with widespread vaccine hesitation, which officials partly attribute to low vaccination rates.
“Global solidarity and proactive leadership is the only way to defeat this virus,” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said at the Vaccine Delivery Alliance conference. This high-level summit calls for greater solidarity and the world to listen to Africa’s voice on how we We can defeat the virus together.”
Buhari said officials are ramping up vaccinations in Nigeria to save lives and kick-start the economic recovery.
The World Health Organization said last week that Nigeria and five other African countries would be the first countries on the continent to start local production of COVID-19 vaccines. The WHO said that training for vaccine production could begin in a few weeks.
One of the speakers at Wednesday’s conference, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said, “Working day and night to remove the barriers we build in partnership with WHO and our partner countries. We are working hard to reach the country’s goals. We are on the ground to do whatever we want to do, not just on vaccines but on testing and treatments.”
Experts say that unless Africa is largely vaccinated against the virus, the world will remain vulnerable.