COVID-19 Could Become Endemic in Africa if 70% Vaccination Coverage is not Achieved by 2022 – Africa CDC
John Nkengasong, Director of Africa Centers for Disease Control, in a press conference Thursday, 6 January

IBADAN – COVID-19 could become “endemic” in Africa if the continent is unable to fully vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of 2022, warned Africa Centers for Disease Control Director, Dr John Nkengasong in a press conference on Thursday. An endemic disease is a disease that is always present in a certain population or region. 

Speaking at the first Africa CDC briefing of 2022, Nkengasong noted that without achieving the vaccination goal, COVID-19 could become an additional disease that African countries would be forced to deal with perenially, in addition to malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

However, with more vaccine doses increasingly becoming available to African countries, he said efforts are underway to consolidate countries’ vaccination initiatives by providing support to enhance actual roll-out of the jabs.

“One is to enable us to acquire more vaccines to support member states. Second, is to support their vaccination efforts. And then thirdly, to support the manufacturing. All of these initiatives are progressing extremely well,” Nkengasong said.

More equitable sharing of COVID vaccines and treatments a precondition for exiting the pandemic 

Corroborating Nkengasong at a separate briefing in Geneva, World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared that more rapid and fair sharing of the full range of tools that science has provided is a pre-condition for the world to exit the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. And access needs to span the range of tools  — tests, vaccines, treatment options, prevention and control measures.

At the current pace of vaccine rollout, a total of 109 countries would miss out on fully vaccinating 70% of their populations by the start of July 2022, Tedros warned. In late December WHO said that some 98 countries, nearly half of them in Africa, would missed the WHO goal of vaccinating 40% of their population by end 2021.  

Now, while some countries even move toward vaccinating citizens a fourth time, others haven’t even had enough regular supply to vaccinate their health workers and those at most risk, Tedros added.  

“Booster after booster in a small number of countries will not end a pandemic while billions remain completely unprotected. But we can and must turn it around. In the short-term we can end the acute stage of this pandemic while preparing now for future ones,” the WHO DG said at the global press briefing. See related story:

Gloomy New Year Prognosis – WHO Experts Warn Omicron Could Also Spawn More Dangerous Variants

Supporting African countries on vaccine rollout – vaccine advocates, engaging military support

Nkengasong said in addition to the $1.5 billion partnership with the MasterCard Foundation to support vaccine rollout in Africa, Morocco and Rwanda are serving as centres of excellence for COVID vaccination to share experience with other African countries that are struggling to more efficiently administer available vaccines in their respective countries.

He added that implementation partners are also being engaged in various countries. 

“We’ve worked with the countries to develop their micro plan. So this year, we will actually swing into action,” he said. 

One aspect of the plan, he said, includes the identification and engagement of vaccine advocates – in addition to military officers supporting, advocating for and facilitating the transportation and roll out of COVID vaccines.

“The initiative is saving costs and saving lives. The program is progressing very well,” he told Health Policy Watch

Increasing confidence in rapid antigen tests – but…  

Nkengasong also told Health Policy Watch that as cases surge, he sees rapid test kids replacing PCR tests for diagnosis of COVID-19.

Even in rich countries, PCR tests have become increasingly laborious and expensive to administer as nations struggle with unprecedented rates of new infections. 

On Wednesday, the UK government announced that a confirmatory PCR test will no longer be required for people who receive positive test results for COVID-19 from rapid antigen tests based on a lateral flow device (LFD). It cites evidence that  for every 10,000 lateral flow tests carried out, “there are likely to be fewer than 3 false positive results.” 

“The new approach reflects similar changes made this time last year in January 2021, when there was also a high prevalence of infection meaning it was highly likely that a positive LFD COVID-19 result was a true positive. This meant confirmatory PCRs were temporarily paused and reintroduced in March 2021 following a reduction in prevalence,” the UK government stated.

“It is in line with what the Africa CDC has been advocating for a while, which is that we should actually begin to recognize the antigen tests as well, because they are almost as good as PCR tests,” Nkengasong told Health Policy Watch.

At the same time, a parallel debate is still raging about whether negative antigen tests results can be relied upon as an early measure of infection. One new preprint study found that among a group of high-risk individuals tested with both rapid antigen and PCRs, in parallel, most people were infectious for an average of three days before the rapid test picked up their virus.  

UK advice still recommends that people with symptoms get tested with PCRs

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