US Donation of 500 Million Pfizer Vaccines Could Help ‘Turn Tide’ as Africa Runs Out of Doses, Says WHO 
Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of the WHO Regional Office for Africa

US President Joe Biden’s announcement today of some 500 million Pfizer doses to the African Union and 92 low- and middle-income countries elsewhere in the world could help begin to “turn the tide’’ on the continent’s pandemic battle, said WHO African Regional Director, Matshidiso Moeti. 

“The tide is starting to turn. We are now seeing wealthy nations beginning to turn promises into action,” Moeti said, speaking at a WHO press briefing on Thursday. “This comes as we see other countries such as France also making tangible deliveries via COVAX, Moeti said, adding,

“Vaccines have been proven to prevent cases and deaths, so countries that can, must urgently share COVID-19 vaccines. It’s do or die on dose sharing for Africa.” 

The White House announcement coincided with Biden’s arrival in the United Kingdom to attend this weekend’s G7 Summit. “This is the largest-ever purchase and donation of vaccines by a single country and a commitment by the American people to help protect people around the world from COVID-19,” said the White House statement. 

The help could come in the nick of time, as African health officials warned that countries are running out of vaccine doses to combat the COVID-19 pandemic – and the number of new COVID-19 cases remains on the rise for the third week running. 

Without more help soon, “nearly 90% of African countries are set to miss new global targets of vaccinating 10% of people against COVID19 by September, Moeti warned.


Less than 1% of Africans Vaccinated So Far 

Less than 1% of Africans have yet been vaccinated, and four countries are yet to commence vaccination at all, said John Nkengasong, Africa’s Center for Disease Control director, in a separate press briefing. 

So far, “35.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, which corresponds to 65% of the total supply available in Africa. Only 0.6% of the population has been fully vaccinated on the continent.” 

John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa CDC

Against that landscape, Biden’s announcement was being welcomed by global health leaders as a potential game changer that could also prod other high-income countries to make more generous vaccine donations. 

“Excellent news,” tweeted José Manuel Barroso, chairman of the board of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, which is the key co-sponsor with WHO and UNICEF of COVAX, the global vaccine facility, which has been the main clearinghouse for vaccines donated or sold at cost for use in low and middle income countries. 

The deal will see deliveries of the new US donations begin in August, with 200 million doses to be shipped in 2021, and a further 300 million doses by June 2022, said Gavi in a separate statement. 

According to the plan, the vaccine doses will be made available through the COVAX facility to member states of the African Union, as well as a few dozen other countries around the world that are eligible for donor-funded vaccines through Gavi’s procurement mechanisms. 

The 500 million dose donation is in addition to the plan to share 80 million doses of existing vaccines in US stocks, as part of a broader global vaccine sharing strategy detailed just last week by the Biden Administration.    

Missing COVID Vaccination Goals – Third Virus Wave Looms 

COVID-19 Vaccination in Africa

Moeti, WHO African Regional Director noted that the delay in vaccine supply to Africa has led to nine out ten countries on the continent to miss their COVID-19 vaccination goal for September.

As of now, 47 out of Africa’s 54 countries will miss the September target of vaccinating 10% of their population, Moeti revealed. The goal could still be met, however, if the continent rapidly receives 225 million more doses, she added. 

According to WHO’s tally, Africa accounts for under 1% of the over 2.1 billion doses administered globally.  Only about 2% of the continent’s nearly 1.3 billion people have received one dose and only 9.4 million Africans are fully vaccinated.


That, as the continent faces a third wave of COVID-19 cases, with new case numbers rising for the third week running. 

While Africa’s cumulative case count hasn’t been lower than almost any other continent, officials there are nervously eyeing events in India, followed by Latin America, which have seen massive  new COVID waves recently. In India, those occurred in cities and regions that historically had not suffered from very high case rates – while in Latin America, they are recurring in countries already battered by previous waves of the virus. .   

“As we close in on 5 million cases and a third wave in Africa looms, many of our most vulnerable people remain dangerously exposed to COVID-19,” Moeti said.

Big Vaccine Inequalities within Africa Too  

Even within Africa, there is inequality in access, a brief assessment by Health Policy Watch Reveals.  A closer look at doses administered so far shows just five countries accounting for about 64% of all doses administered on the continent.

Those include Morocco, having administered 15.8 million doses, followed by Egypt (3.1 million), Nigeria (2.1 million),  Ethiopia (1.9 million), and South Africa, (1.4 million doses out of 2.4 million that it has available).  

On the other hand, Tanzania, the Saharawi Republic, Eritrea, and Burundi are yet to receive or administer any COVID-19 vaccines.

Along with the new US vaccine offers, some other fresh donations are finally beginning to trickle into some African countries, Nkkengasong said. 

“On 1 June 2021, Togo received 100,620 doses of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine from the COVAX facility making it the third country to receive such from the initiative. On 4 June 2021, Chad started vaccinating health personnel and the elderly with 400,000 doses of Sinopharm received on 3 June 2021,” he noted. 

Tackling Vaccine Wastage

Along with the plea for more donations, the health officials also acknowledged that African countries need to take more assertive action to avoid vaccine wastage and spoilage – challenges that will become even more significant as temperature sensitive Pfizer vaccines begin to be distributed. 

In April 2021, Health Policy Watch reported on the concerns that many African countries were inadequately prepared to quickly administer the doses before their expiry. 

Following that, Malawi’s incineration of nearly 20,000 expired doses called even more attention to the issue – even as WHO and African CDC officials said that the vaccines could still have been used beyond their expiration date. Other countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, have pre-emptively returned unused doses to the African CDC, saying they could not use them in time. 

At today’s briefing, Moeti revealed that 14 African countries have used nearly all (80 — 100%) of the doses they received in the spring through the COVAX Facility, primarily temperature resilient AstraZeneca vaccines supplied by the Serum Institute of India. 

On the down side, however, 20 countries have used less than 50% of the doses received, while 12 countries have more than 10% of their AstraZeneca doses at risk of expiration by the end of August.

“We need to ensure that the vaccines that we have are not wasted because every dose is precious,” said Dr Moeti. “Countries that are lagging behind in their rollout need to step up vaccination efforts.”

She noted that countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Niger are seeing more success by adjusting their vaccine rollout strategies. 

“Where possible, WHO recommends spreading vaccinations beyond large cities into rural areas, prioritizing vaccines that are close to expiring, tackling logistical and financial hurdles and working to boost public demand for vaccines,” Moeti suggested.

Image Credits: Paul Adepoju.

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