African health officials say the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations has slowed on the continent, raising concerns about stopping the pandemic. They are calling on Africans to get inoculated as soon as vaccine arrives through the COVAX initiative, which aims for equitable, global access. The World Health Organization African Region also is warning people against lowering their guard during this festive period.
Speaking at a virtual press briefing Thursday, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the number of Africans seeking COVID-19 vaccinations has gone down.
“Only 55% of the vaccines that have arrived have been used in the continent. That's a really unacceptable situation because of distribution which means that if people want to be vaccinated, they can be vaccinated. We are making an appeal to everyone in the continent who has access to vaccines to go get their vaccines and that’s the only way we can protect ourselves,” he said.
The continent's health agency says the slow pace of inoculations is not about hesitancy or lack of vaccine, but moving the vaccine from the airport to people’s arms.
So far, Africa has vaccinated 10% of its population and received 330 million doses from COVAX, the U.N.-backed global initiative to distribute shots to low- and middle-income countries. Africa has a population of 1.3 billion people.
Richard Mihigo is a program coordinator with the World Health Organization’s Immunization and Vaccine Development Program.
“It’s very good news now that we have more supply. Now we are trying to make sure the countries are getting ready, they are even diversifying strategies in reaching out not only to vulnerable populations, but we have also seen countries that have opened up vaccination even to children between 12 years and above,” he said.
Kenya has witnessed slow action on COVID-19 vaccinations. This week, authorities threatened to cut off government services to unvaccinated individuals.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said the population needs to be careful as people prepare for the December holidays.
“...We are already seeing an uptick in cases in southern Africa with a 485% jump in new cases compared with the presiding week. This comes after 18 weeks of sustained decline with the increase driven mainly by a spike in cases in southern Africa. We know that vaccination is our best defense. But while many high-income countries report more than 60 percent vaccine coverage, just over 7% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated,” said Moeti.
Botswana and South Africa have reported a new coronavirus variant, B.1.1529, which is believed to be highly transmittable and vaccine-resistant.
A WHO analysis shows only 27% of African health workers are fully vaccinated, leaving many medical workers unprotected.
Africa has recorded more than 8.6 million coronavirus cases and 221,000 deaths from the resulting COVID-19 illness.