Extensive campaigns to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in Africa may likely begin in the second quarter of 2021 as a result of the challenges around retrieving vaccines and preparing countries for their distribution, said John Nkengasong, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, during a press conference on 26th November, 2020.
Positive short-term results from 3 candidate vaccines have boosted global confidence that there is an end in sight to the pandemic. Nevertheless, not all of these vaccines are appropriate for a roll out in Africa.
The cold temperature necessary for the storage and distribution of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines would make them a challenge to distribute in Africa quickly, Nkengasong said. Although the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had lower short-term efficacy results, it does offer the best option for distribution in Africa because the temperature needed isn’t as low and manufacturers can produce it at a lesser price.
Wealthier nations have preordered enormous quantities of vaccine candidates, raising concerns over fairness in distribution. But there are mechanisms in place to help African nations get access to the vaccine.
Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is coordinating with the COVAX Facility, a global initiative working on equitable COVID-19 vaccine access, together with World Bank and African Export-Import Bank.
COVAX aims to provide African nations with sufficient vaccines to cover twenty percent of their population. The regional director for Africa at the World Health Organization, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said that it might start providing African nations with vaccines by the end of the first quarter of next year to cover about three percent of the population, mainly those at highest risk like health workers and elderly people, to then scale up to twenty percent.
Nkengasong said that in order to achieve levels of herd immunity, there is a need to vaccinate about sixty percent of the population, meaning that Africa will need to secure the funding to fill this gap. To reach this threshold, the continent needs about 1.5 billion doses of vaccines, with the understanding that each vaccinated person gets 2 doses. To pay for this, Africa needs to mobilize about $10 billion to $12 billion.
An analysis of data from forty African nations found that countries have on average, a score of thirty-three percent in readiness to safely and effectively roll out a vaccine, far below the eighty percent target, Dr. Moeti said.
Only forty-nine percent of African countries have identified priority population for vaccination and have plans on reaching them; forty-four percent have coordination structures in place; twenty-four percent have adequate plans for resources and funding; seventeen percent have data collection and monitoring tools ready and twelve percent have communication plans for building trust in communities.
Dr. Moeti also said in a statement that African governments must urgently ramp up readiness because the largest immunization drive in Africa’s history is right around the corner.
Some significant challenges facing the rollout include vaccine hesitancy, as misinformation about vaccines circulates across Africa, in addition to adapting strategies to target adults, when typically vaccination campaigns target children.
Nkengasong voiced his concern that after wealthier countries start their vaccination campaigns, airlines and countries will need vaccine certificates for travel, which could pose a challenge for African countries if they do not have access to vaccines.
“Then Africa will be stranded. This is not hypothetical, I’ve been in public health for thirty years and I’ve seen how Africa has been neglected when those interventions are available,” he said, adding that HIV drugs were available worldwide in 1996 but it took a decade for people in Africa to access them.
In partnership with others, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has set up the Africa Medical Supply Platform, a system to coordinate procurement that can be adapted for vaccine distribution. Working with national leaders, thousands of public health workers and emergency responders have been deployed across the continent to manage the test, trace and treat strategy. They will support the vaccination efforts of the African Union’s member states and train others too. An additional task is to work with existing distribution systems to deliver vaccines efficiently. For example, refrigerated bottles of Coca-Cola are available in even the remotest areas of Africa. Our health systems needs to learn from, and even partner with, such commercial systems. Innovative technologies are also needed to track distribution.