Africa CDC – Mastercard Partnership Helps Improve Vaccine Uptake – Only 0.5% of Doses Received are Wasted 
Matshidiso Moetic, WHO Regional Director for Africa

A partnership between Africa CDC and MasterCard Foundation, which has included visits to countries with model vaccination programmes, such as Rwanda and Morocco, is making a difference to other African countries facing challenges in getting jabs into arms.  

That and other measures aimed at supporting more rapid African roll out of COVID-19 vaccines are proving effective, said Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) on Thursday. 

Meanwhile, WHO African Regional officials said that only 0.5% of COVID-19 vaccines received on the continent had actually gone to waste  — despite the fact that another recent  report suggesting that up to 35% of doses so far received are still awaiting distribution

Addressing journalists on Thursday, Nkengasong said the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative —  involving Africa CDC and MasterCard Foundation — have demonstrated results in at least four countries so far. 

“We have data from Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Cameroon and Tanzania where uptake of the vaccination really increased significantly once we sent in teams as part of the initiative,” Nkengasong said.

Delegations from those and other countries visited Morocco and Rwanda, where about 63% and 55% of the population respectively have been fully vaccinated, to learn about their model for success, he said.

“A set of countries, about 16, have actually been to Morocco to see their experience. Another set was in Rwanda. And as we speak, micro planning is going on for about 40 countries in Africa as part of that initiative,” Nkengasong told Health Policy Watch.

Along with site visits, the initiative is supporting countries to review their procurement processes; develop and finalize rollout plans; and ensure faster deployment of vaccines that are due to expire soon. 

 0.5%  Wastage 

africa cdc
Airfinity estimates of donated doses that have actually been adminsitered

On Wednesday, Health Policy Watch reported that only 65% of donated COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far – with the remaining 35% yet to be used.  The largest proportion of donations, although by no means all of them, have gone to countries in Africa. 

However, Dr Richard Mihigo, WHO Africa Coordinator of Immunization and Vaccine Development, said that while there may be doses still awaiting distribution, actual wastage remains very small. 

Out of 635 million doses received so far, wasted doses have amounted to only about 3.5 million, representing only about 0.5% of the doses received, Mihigo said.

“If we look at the bigger picture, the continent has not done that bad at 0.5%,” Mihigo said.

He noted that the wastage that has occurred, is also due to the fact many donated doses have also arrived too close to their expiration date – making rapid rollout a huge challenge.

“So we cannot really condemn African countries because if you look at developed countries, we have also seen vaccines that have been destroyed,” Mihigo added.

To further ensure that vaccines are not being destroyed by African countries, Mihigo said the COVAX initiative has updated its engagement with African countries, ensuring that it only supplies the amount of doses requested by the countries according to their timelines — responding to country demands instead of pushing out vaccines through a top-down agenda.

“I think that the prospects in the future are looking quite good because countries are requesting vaccines that they can use. 

“But, also, WHO, UNICEF, GAVI, Africa CDC, are also putting out a strong statement on vaccines for each country to only receive vaccines that have a quite extended shelf life so that the country can be able to plan and deliver those vaccines on time,” he said.

Despite spread of new Omicron sub-variants, Africa on track to control COVID-19 pandemic in 2022

Meanwhile, Nkengasong, in his briefing, confirmed that the more infectious Omicron BA.2 subvariant now has become dominant in South Africa – and is slowly spreading elsewhere on the continent – after first being detected last month in Denmark and India. However, while the subvariant appears to be even more infectious than the original Omicron, experts have said it is not more deadly.  See related Health Policy Watch story. 

But WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, did not express undue concern over the continued mutation of the SARS-CoV2 virus, saying that Africa is on track to control COVID-19 pandemic in 2022 if current trends continue.

She said that over the past two years, African countries have become smarter, faster and better at responding to each new surge in cases of COVID-19.

“Against the odds, including huge inequities in access to vaccination, we’ve weathered the COVID-19 storm with resilience and determination, informed by Africa’s long history and experience with controlling outbreaks. But COVID-19 has cost us dearly, with more than 242, 000 lives lost and tremendous damage to our economies,” Moeti said.

While admitting that COVID-19 will be around for the long-term, she noted that there is optimism as 2022 can see the end of the disruption and destruction the virus has left in its path, and gain back control over lives on the continent. 

“Controlling this pandemic must be a priority, but we understand no two countries have had the same pandemic experience, and each country must, therefore, chart its own way out of this emergency,” she said.

The Rwanda experience

Albert Tuyishime, Head of Diseases Prevention and Control at Ministry of Health/Rwanda Biomedical Centre

The East African country of Rwanda has been recognised as one of the African countries that has been a model of vaccination progress. With 54% of its eligible population fully vaccinated – Rwanda has raced ahead of more developed South Africa – and ranks only second to Morocco in terms of coverage.   

Speaking at the Thursday Africa CDC briefing,  Dr Albert Tuyishime, Head of Diseases Prevention and Control at Ministry of Health/ Rwanda Biomedical Centre talked about how the country had achieved those results – driven by the highest level of the country’s leadership. 

“We also built on in-country multisectoral collaboration, effective partnerships, regional collaboration, and, especially, community engagement and research, science- and evidence-based decisions as well as interventions,” he said.

He noted that 66% of the Rwandan population had been vaccinated with at least one dose while 55% have received two doses, and 8% of the population have already received their booster dose. In addition, the country is now expanding vaccine access to children aged 5 to 11 years.

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