Nearly 7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Africa, where after months of waiting on the side-lines for vaccines, many of the first wave of countries to start campaigns are rapidly vaccinating high-risk groups.
Countries have accessed vaccines through the COVAX Facility, bilateral deals and donations. Altogether 38 African countries have received more than 25 million COVID-19 vaccines and 30 have started vaccination campaigns. Through the COVAX initiative – which is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with UNICEF – more than 16 million vaccine doses have so far been shipped to 27 countries.
"Although Africa received vaccines late and in limited quantities, a lot of ground has been covered in a short space of time. This is due to the continent's vast experience in mass vaccination campaigns and the determination of its leaders and people to effectively curb COVID-19," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. "Compared with countries in other regions that accessed vaccines much earlier, the initial rollout phase in some African countries has reached a far higher number of people."
Just two weeks after receiving COVAX-funded AstraZeneca vaccines, Ghana has administered more than 420 000 doses and covered over 60% of the targeted population in the first phase in the Greater Accra region – the hardest hit by the pandemic. In the first nine days, it is estimated the country delivered doses to around 90% of health workers. In Morocco, more than 5.6 million vaccinations have taken place in the past seven weeks, while in Angola, vaccines have reached over 49 000 people, including more than 28 000 health workers in the past week.
To ensure the most impact, initial vaccine doses are being limited to priority population groups including health workers, older people and people with health conditions placing them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness. While the rollout is going well, there is an urgent need for more doses as Ghana, Rwanda and other countries are on the brink of running dry.
"Countries are clocking an impressive vaccination pace, but we must ensure this speed doesn't slow down to a crawl," said Dr Moeti. "Additional supplies are urgently required to narrow the gap between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated."
A few countries in Africa have halted or postponed their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, following the suspension of the vaccine by some countries in Europe. This precautionary measure is based on reports of rare blood coagulation disorders in people who had received the vaccine. The suspension is regarding one specific batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been distributed to Africa.
WHO's Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety is carefully assessing the reports on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to gain full understanding and will communicate its findings. Based on what is currently known, WHO considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue.
Vaccinations are occurring as more than 4 million COVID-19 cases have now been reported on the African continent, with 43 000 new cases in the past week, and 108 000 lives lost. In the past month, new cases have decreased by 41% compared with the previous month, but there is an upward trend in 12 countries including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya and Guinea (where an outbreak of Ebola is also ongoing).
Dr Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Hon Dr Silvia Lutucuta, Minister of Health of Angola, Professor William Kwabena Ampofo, Chairperson of African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative and Dr Salam Gueye, Director, Regional Emergency Preparedness and Response, WHO Regional Office for Africa. Also on hand to answer questions was Dr Richard Mihigo, Immunization and Vaccine Development Programme Coordinator, WHO Regional Office for Africa.