As Africa Experiences ‘Worst Pandemic Week’, COVAX Promises Accelerated Delivery of Vaccines from September
COVAX is relying on donated doses, but expected accelerated vaccine deliveries from September.

As Africa recorded its worst pandemic week, the COVAX Facility announced on Thursday that it has taken steps to quickly resume the delivery of vaccines to African countries including diversifying its portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Aurélia Nguyen, Managing Director of the COVAX Facility based at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said the COVAX portfolio now consists of nine vaccines and vaccine candidates.

“We have legally binding contracts in place for 2.8 billion doses. We also have commitments for further 1.3 billion doses,” Nguyen told the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa’s weekly COVID-19 briefing on Thursday.

COVAX will have supplied 520 million doses by the end of 2021 and nearly 850 million by the end of the first quarter of 2022, said Nguyen.

“These are all funded following our successful fundraising summit that we had in early June. Now we have the resources in place to be able to protect up to 30% of the population in every eligible African country,” she added.

Aurélia Nguyen, Managing Director of the COVAX Facility

The majority of the doses will be delivered from September onwards and in the interim, COVAX will be getting countries with excess doses to share with countries that do not have.

“This week, those donations from France reached Mozambique and Zambia. Kenya and Somalia are set to receive vaccines. We’re also working very closely with our partners in the US government and in coordination with the African Union, to facilitate doses from the US, as well as other donations from other countries,” she added.

Regarding the resumption of shipments from India, she said COVAX has been in close discussions with the Government of India and with the Serum Institute of India (SII), COVAX’s main supplier until vaccine exports were banned in India to address its domestic COVID-19 crisis. 

“I think it’s still a fluid situation given the situation in India, and we’ve been factoring in the resumption of supplies towards the later part of the year,” she said.

Slow vaccination and increasingly worrisome Delta variant

The slow vaccination rate in Africa could result in the emergence of new variants that could threaten global health, Professor Tulio de Oliveira, Director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform in South Africa told the briefing.

“We just give more chances for the virus to evolve and for new variants to emerge. So it’s very important, more than ever, that we treat this as a global pandemic, and if we leave countries in Africa behind, we just give chance for new variants to emerge,” de Oliveira said.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, Director of KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform in South Africa

Regarding the Delta variant, de Oliveira said it is becoming increasingly worrisome as it is now accounting for up to half of COVID-19 cases in Africa.

According to Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the Delta variant has now been reported in 15 African countries — Algeria, Botswana, DR Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

“The public health measures are still effective against the Delta variant so we just have to keep implementing those measures rigorously to block the spread of this variant. We shall overcome, and we have to overcome as a continent. We have fought a good fight, to keep maintaining the virus where it is. It was known, and it was predicted that we cannot win the battle against this terrible virus with only public health measures,” Nkengasong said. 

Africa’s worst pandemic week ever

WHO Africa Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said that the continent had marked its worst pandemic week ever — surpassing the second wave peak during the seven days ending on 4 July 2021.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“Africa has just marked the continent’s most dire pandemic week ever. But the worst is yet to come as the fast-moving third wave continues to gain speed and new ground,” Moeti said. “The end to this precipitous rise is still weeks away. Cases are doubling now every 18 days, compared with every 21 days only a week ago. We can still break the chain of transmission by testing, isolating contacts and cases and following key public health measures.”

In the past two weeks, she revealed that over 1.6 million vaccine doses had been delivered to Africa through COVAX, and more than 20 million doses – primarily Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines, with some Pfizer-BioNTech – are expectedimminently from the United States through COVAX, in coordination with the African Union. 

Some 49 countries have also been notified of the allocations they will receive, while other significant dose donations from Norway and Sweden are expected to arrive in the coming weeks. 

With much larger COVID-19 vaccine deliveries expected to arrive in July and August, Moeti urged African countries to prepare to rapidly expand the roll-out.

“Governments and partners can do this by planning to expand vaccination sites, improving cold chain capacities beyond capital cities, sensitizing communities to boost vaccine confidence and demand, and ensuring that operational funding is ready to go when it is needed,” Moeti said.

Regarding vaccine hesitancy, Nkengasong said availability of the doses has shown that people in Africa will receive it when they see their relatives accepting the doses. 

“About 75% of vaccines that are available on the continent have been used. If the vaccines are available in a predictable way, I’m very convinced that the population will cooperate because they know that vaccines save lives, and they save their loved ones,” Nkengasong said.

Image Credits: UNICEF.

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