Cash woes, logistical challenges rock Africa COVID-19 vaccine plans

Africa’s fight against the pandemic is facing a double whammy of halt in vaccine exports from India and financial woes, putting at risk the continent’s efforts to contain Covid-19 in sync with other parts of the world.

At the moment, vaccine deliveries to Africa under the World Health Organisation (WHO) -backed COVAX pragramme are facing delays with just a quarter of the expected 66 million doses received between February and March.

“As people living in richer countries hit the reset button and their lives start to look normal, in Africa our lives will stay on hold. This is unjust,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.

“We are optimistic that vaccine availability will improve significantly in the second half of the year. We can still catch up and make up for the lost ground, but time is running out.”

Kenya placed an order of 30 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine once hopes of projected deliveries from India started wane. Kenya plans to ensure every adult eligible for vaccination gets the jab by June next year.

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COVAX is exploring alternative sources of Covid vaccine as India battles a deadly Coronavirus wave that has left the Serum Institute of India prioritizing domestic demand with available doses until the end of this year.

Dr Moeti noted “the supply gap can be closed if countries with surplus doses set aside a percentage of vaccines for COVAX,” adding that “I welcome the pledge by the United States this week to share 80 million doses with other countries, in addition to recent shipments of vaccines from France to Mauritania. Dose sharing is key to ending the supply crunch and the pandemic as a whole, as no one is safe until everyone is safe.”

Kenya is expecting 150,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses from the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday, May 21, a move that will see a number of citizens, who first received their Covid-19 jabs in March receive their booster shots starting June.

Whereas COVAX is providing its share of vaccines for free to poor countries, country authorities have to incur significant costs in ensuring that the life-saving drugs reach the most deserving without wastage.

The World Bank estimates show that about $3 billion is required to deliver the shots into the arms of the people over and above the funds needed to procure the drugs.

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In some countries, the lack of finances and poor infrastructure is already causing delays in rollout in addition to the shortage of vaccines, poor training, inadequate communication campaigns also hamper the push to use the doses.

“It’s critical to use this time, while there are only limited doses, to cost and plan for a more effective rollout and ensure that all doses are used as effectively as possible and none go to waste,” said Dr Moeti. “WHO is on hand to support countries with their COVID-19 costing plans.”

The COVAX programme provided countries with a vaccine costing tool but only a few African nations are making good use of the matrix to gauge their financing needs.

According to Mr Kagwe, the AstraZeneca vaccine is unlikely to remain the vaccine of choice for African countries on account of the ongoing supply shortage.

“As a continent, we must stop believing that there is a good Samaritan out there who is just about to come and help us. It is everyone for himself or herself and God for us all,” Mr Kagwe said.

Kenya received KES212 million shot in the arm from Japan to step up the country’s cold chain system in readiness for COVID-19 vaccines roll out, as part of KES1.2 billion grant to eleven countries in the East and Southern Africa.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya, Japan has been contributing to the fight against the virus by providing medical equipment and PCR test kits,” said Ambassador of Japan to Kenya Horie Ryoichi.

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