It is time for Africa to focus on getting vaccines in arms | Coronavirus pandemic

Vaccination rates against COVID-19 remain disappointingly low in Africa, where only about 8 percent of the continent’s entire population has been vaccinated against the disease. This average hides significant differences between countries. Mauritius and Morocco, for example, have already fully vaccinated 72 and 62 percent of their population, but in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, vaccination rates are still well below one percent.

Since the emergence of the more transmissible Omicron variant, the number of COVID-19 infections has been on the rise, but the number of deaths remains relatively low on the continent. However, given the known weaknesses in African health sectors, including the limited number of intensive care beds, there are concerns that if the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly – or worse, a more transmissible and deadly variant emerges – Africa may find itself in In the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis. Thus, preliminary fortification seemed to be the only option available to prevent a new catastrophe on the continent.

Unfortunately, due to several interrelated factors, Africa is not expected to reach the global target of 70 percent vaccination set for mid-2022 until the end of 2024, according to the World Health Organization. Beyond its consequences for the population of the continent, this error is likely to have significant and negative spillover effects on the rest of the world in terms of the emergence of new and potentially more harmful variants.

The main reason behind the low vaccination rates in Africa was the lack of supply. In fact, high-income countries have been hoarding vaccines, most recently for their third “booster” doses, leaving low-income countries, including many African countries, unable to access adequate doses even for their most vulnerable populations and front-line health workers.

The limited shelf life of vaccines – three to six months on average – has also had an impact on vaccination rates in Africa, as it has made it extremely difficult for vaccine-rich countries to transfer their excess doses to vaccine-poor countries before they expire.

But vaccine manufacturers around the world are ramping up production, and the demand for vaccines is slowly but surely declining in high-income countries. According to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, at least 1.5 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are currently produced each month, and the total number of vaccine doses produced is expected to reach 24 billion by June 2022. By then, the vaccine is likely to Supplies outstrip global demand. What all this means is that the shortage of supplies in Africa is likely to end in the near future. This is undoubtedly good news for the continent. But now, African countries need to focus their efforts on overcoming local bottlenecks, such as poor logistics, lack of capacity to administer doses and frequency of vaccines, which could hinder future vaccination campaigns.

Failure to address these bottlenecks quickly and efficiently could result in more and more doses of vaccine being returned to manufacturers or destroyed, especially given the short shelf life of most doses.

The continent has endemic logistical problems. Many of the leading ports in Africa, for example, suffer from high levels of corruption that is already causing significant delays in imports and increasing their costs. These issues could also hamper COVID-19 vaccination campaigns on the continent. Moreover, the cold chain infrastructure in Africa is largely inadequate, easily causing 50 percent of the food produced by African countries on average to be wasted. Given the need to refrigerate COVID-19 vaccines – some at very low temperatures – this shortage could also pose a threat to vaccination campaigns.

And even if these logistical issues are resolved, most African countries do not currently have the means to put all the potions they are expected to receive into the arms of Africans before they expire. For one thing, there aren’t enough nurses or other health professionals trained to administer the vaccines. The average number of nurses in sub-Saharan Africa is one per thousand of the population, compared to 10 per thousand in OECD or OECD member countries and 15 per thousand in North America according to the World Bank. . Moreover, many of these countries also do not have adequate injections for large-scale vaccination campaigns.

Low levels of urbanization in many African countries are also an obstacle to vaccination campaigns. While the rate of urbanization has increased rapidly on the continent over the past few decades, it remains relatively low, making it difficult to administer the vaccine to all citizens. Six out of 10 sub-Saharan Africans still live in rural areas, according to the World Bank. To reach segments of the population in remote areas, Ivory Coast has deployed mobile clinics across the country and Ghana has used drones to deliver doses to remote areas. Other African countries should also invest in such initiatives if they are to reach vaccination targets in a timely manner.

On top of these logistical issues, vaccine hesitation also poses a problem. Reports that the AstraZeneca vaccine can cause blood clots, and the decision of several European countries not to give this vaccine to their citizens have increased hesitation on the continent. Moreover, social media platforms, including Facebook, which is synonymous with the Internet in many African countries, have become tools for disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine and prompted many Africans to be reluctant to take the vaccine. Many African countries have failed to respond efficiently to these disinformation campaigns by providing accurate information on vaccines. Unfortunately, many respected public figures, including political leaders, have also directly contributed to the spread of misinformation and unfounded doubts about the safety of vaccines.

As more doses reach the continent, local bottlenecks will become the main impediments to pollination efforts. African leaders, with support from development institutions, must develop clear vaccination plans, invest strategically in improving logistics and digitize their systems to better track doses. They must also expand and improve their cold chain infrastructures. They should invest in initiatives to ensure that doses reach segments of the population in remote areas. To address vaccine hesitation, politicians, whether in power or not, must team up with popular public figures, such as footballers, music stars and social media influencers, to encourage Africans to get vaccinated. Financial incentives such as conditional cash transfers via mobile phones can also help incentivize vaccination, providing needed relief to families who have suffered severely during the pandemic.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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