Looming threat of vaccine commodity crisis hangs over continent
BRAZZAVILLE, Congo (Republic of), October 28, 2021 / APO Group / –
Only five African countries, less than 10% of Africa’s 54 countries, are expected to meet the year-end goal of fully immunizing 40% of their population, unless efforts to step up the pace take off. This comes as the Region strives to meet the growing demand for essential immunization commodities, such as syringes.
Three African countries, Seychelles, Mauritius and Morocco, have already reached the target set in May by the World Health Assembly, the world’s highest body for defining health policies. At the current rate, only two other countries, Tunisia and Cabo Verde, will also reach the target.
In addition, limited access to essentials such as syringes can slow the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa. UNICEF has reported an impending shortage of up to 2.2 billion auto-disable syringes for COVID-19 vaccination and routine immunization in 2022. This includes 0.3ml of auto-disposable syringes for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID- vaccination 19.
There is no worldwide stock of specialized 0.3ml syringes, which differ from 0.5ml syringes used for other types of COVID-19 vaccines and routine immunization. The 0.3ml auto-disable syringe market is tight and extremely competitive. As such, they are rare and will remain so at least until the first quarter of next year.
Already, some African countries, such as Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa, have experienced delays in receiving syringes.
“The looming threat of a vaccine commodity crisis hangs over the continent. Early next year, COVID-19 vaccines will start pouring into Africa, but syringe shortages could cripple progress. Drastic measures must be taken to rapidly increase syringe production. Countless African lives depend on it, ”said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.
The COVAX facility is working to address this threat by making deals with syringe manufacturers and through better planning to prevent deliveries from exceeding syringe supplies.
In October to date, around 50 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Africa, almost double what was shipped in September. COVAX, the global platform for ensuring equitable access to vaccines, delivered nearly 90% of the vaccines deployed this month and has ramped up shipments since July. However, at the current rate, Africa still faces a shortfall of 275 million COVID-19 vaccines compared to the end-of-year goal of fully immunizing 40% of its population.
Africa has fully immunized 77 million people, or just 6% of its population. By comparison, more than 70% of high-income countries have already vaccinated more than 40% of their population.
Countries still need to improve their preparedness for the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine. Forty-two percent of countries in the African Region have yet to complete district-level plans for their campaigns, while nearly 40 percent have yet to undertake intra-action reviews which are essential to refine and improve their vaccination campaigns.
“In Africa, planning needs to become much more granular. That way, we can spot challenges before they arise and nip any issues in the bud. WHO is helping African countries develop, improve and implement their national vaccine deployment plans and continually refine their COVID-19 vaccine deployments as they progress, ”said Dr Moeti.
WHO is leading emergency support missions in five African countries to help support, accelerate and improve their COVID-19 vaccine deployments, with plans for missions to 10 more countries this year. WHO experts are working with local authorities and partners in the field to analyze the reasons for any delays and how best to address them. In South Sudan, authorities aim to ensure that the WHO mission will help the country achieve its goal of increasing the daily COVID-19 vaccination rate tenfold from 2,000 to 2,500.
Nearly 8.5 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 217,000 deaths have been recorded in Africa. In the week ending October 24, there were more than 29,300 new cases, a drop of almost 30% from the previous week. But 10 African countries are still in resurgence, including four in an uptrend or on the high plateau: Gabon, Congo, Cameroon and Egypt. The Delta variant was found in 41 countries, the Alpha variant in 47 and Beta in 43.
Dr Moeti spoke at a virtual press conference today, hosted by APO Group. She was accompanied by Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, Managing Director of Rwanda Biomedical Center, and Mr Sibusiso Hlatjwako, Director of External Affairs of PATH in the Africa region and representative of PATH in South Africa.
Dr Phionah Atuhebwe, WHO new vaccine introduction manager, and Dr Thierno Balde, deputy incident manager for COVID-19 response were also present to answer questions.
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