Inside Africa's Covid-19 vaccine drive and the need for 20 million second doses
The continent urgently needs 20 million extra doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine
Africa needs at least 20 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the next six weeks to get second doses to all who received a first dose within the 8—12-week interval between recommended doses, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
Speaking during a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa pointed out that a single dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine gives around 70% protection for at least 12 weeks. Data on the protection from one dose after 12 weeks is limited, however COVID-19 antibodies have been found in the body up to 6 months after one dose. The full course provided with a 12-week interval gives 81% protection for an extended period.
In addition to this urgent need, another 200 million doses of any WHO Emergency Use Listed COVID-19 vaccine are needed so that the continent can vaccinate 10% of its population by September 2021. This follows a call made by WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the World Health Assembly, WHO’s governing body earlier this week for all Member States to support a massive vaccination push.
To date, 28 million COVID-19 doses, of different vaccines, have been administered in Africa, which represents less than two doses administered per 100 people in Africa. Globally, 1.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered.
“As supplies dry up, dose-sharing is an urgent, critical and short-term solution to ensuring that Africans at the greatest risk of COVID-19 get the much-needed protection,” said Dr Moeti. “Africa needs vaccines now. Any pause in our vaccination campaigns will lead to lost lives and lost hope.”
“It’s too soon to tell if Africa is on the cusp of a third wave. However, we know that cases are rising, and the clock is ticking so we urgently appeal to countries that have vaccinated their high-risk groups to speed up the dose-sharing to fully protect the most vulnerable people.”
France is the first country to share COVID-19 vaccines from its domestic supply, donating over 31 000 doses to Mauritania, with another 74 400 set for imminent delivery. France has pledged to share half a million more doses with six African countries in the next few weeks. The European Union and its Member States have pledged over 100 million doses for low-income countries by the end of 2021. The United States of America has pledged to share 80 million doses with lower-income countries, and other high-income countries have expressed interest in sharing vaccines. Expediting these pledges is crucial and the COVAX Facility is a proven tool for swift delivery.
Vaccine sharing across the continent
African countries that are unable to use all their vaccines are sharing them across the continent. While this prevents vaccine wastage, redistributing doses is costly and countries must roll out all available doses as soon as possible. WHO is working closely with countries to improve vaccine rollout by optimizing delivery strategies and increasing uptake.
In the longer term, Africa must boost its manufacturing capacity for vaccines. Yet there is no quick-fix and putting the policies, processes and partnerships in place may take years. Intellectual Property waivers are a crucial first step but must come alongside the sharing of expertise and critical technologies.
More than 100 WHO Member States, including 54 African countries are co-sponsoring a draft resolution led by Ethiopia which is being presented at this week’s World Health Assembly. The resolution aims to strengthen local production, promote technology transfers and innovation, and consider the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and intellectual property rights through the lens of boosting local production.
WHO is helping African Member States to lay the groundwork to build up vaccine manufacturing capacity. Around 40 African countries joined a recent WHO training to build manufacturing capacities and WHO is working with the African Union to support the African Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa, supporting feasibility studies and potential technology transfers on request, sharing expertise and helping forge crucial partnerships.