Tanzania Finally Begins COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout, as More Doses Trickle into Africa
Tanzanian and US officials celebrate the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccines in the country, part of a donation from the US.

Tanzania has finally started to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, amid a 16-fold increase in vaccine deliveries to Africa in this week alone in comparison to the whole of June.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu publicly received the vaccine on Wednesday, a sharp contrast to her predecessor, John Magufuli, who died in March after months of denying the existence of COVID in the country.

Tanzania’s vaccine rollout is the result of a donation of 1,058,000 doses of Johnson and Johnson COVID vaccine from the US government.

After receiving her J&J dose, Suluhu urged Tanzanians to follow her example, noting that the country was not an island but is a part of the interlinked global ecosystem.

Addressing an Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) press briefing on Thursday, centre director Dr John Nkengasong welcomed the development.

“I just came back from Tanzania and I had a conversation with the leadership. The president was very supportive. We spoke about the COVID pandemic very openly and freely. We are committed to working with them to roll out the one million doses of vaccine that they just received as part of US supply. We are very encouraged. The minister of health was extremely supportive and we look forward to doing our little best to support that effort,” Nkengasong said.

Burundi and Eritrea are now the only African countries that have not started to vaccinate their citizens against COVID-19.

“We continue to engage with Burundi and Eritrea. In the coming weeks, we will be intensifying our efforts there to understand the gaps and areas where we can support them,” Nkengasong said. 

Africa CDC Director Dr John Nkengasong

Leaving no country behind

Nkengasong noted that the battle against COVID cannot be won by leaving any country behind. Instead, he said efforts should be geared towards ensuring all the countries on the continent are supported to take required steps toward quickly stemming the spread of the pandemic.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, told the briefing that four million doses had been delivered to the continent in the past week in comparison with just 245,000 doses in June. 

“COVAX aims to ship 520 million doses to Africa by the end of 2021. COVID-19 vaccine and deliveries from the African Union’s Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) are picking up, with a projected rise to 10 million each month from September. Around 45 million doses are expected from AVAT by the year’s end,” Moeti said.

The WHO also revealed that COVAX had reached a deal with Sinopharm and Sinovac which will rapidly supply 110 million more doses of COVID vaccines to low-income countries. 

COVAX and the World Bank are also introducing a new cost-sharing arrangement through which low-income countries can purchase doses beyond the fully donor-subsidized doses they are already receiving from COVAX.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa

Overall cases are falling but 22 countries report increases over 20%

As more vaccine doses are increasingly becoming available to African countries, the number of cases is also falling with the continent recording its second week of falling case numbers after an unbroken eight-week surge. 

According to the WHO, reported case numbers fell by 18% from over 282,000 to 230,500 in the week ending on 25 July. But 22 countries reported increases of over 20% and reported deaths rose in 17 African countries. 

“Africa is still in the throes of a third wave. The limited slowdown in cases is heartening and cause for a very cautious optimism, but we are far from out of the woods yet. We must all stay vigilant,” said Moeti.

Across the continent, the case fatality rate (CFR) is 2.5% which is higher than the global value of 2.1%. Furthermore, four African countries – Egypt, Sahrawi Republic, Somalia and Sudan – are reporting a CFR higher than 5%.

Dilemma of safely reopening schools 

While noting that reopening schools could lead to a surge in COVID cases, Moeti also noted that continual closure of schools could threaten girl child education. She described this as a dilemma for several African countries. 

To deal with this, she said countries should prioritise efforts aimed at safely reopening schools, which she said would require additional investment.

“Certainly, if young people are going to going back to school, which is a very important objective, then there needs to be a lot of investment in ensuring that this does not result in superspreader events within the classroom and children taking the infection back home where they are likely to infect parents that may be vulnerable to falling seriously ill and dying,” she said. 

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