Why Africa lacks capacity for mass COVID-19 vaccine roll-out: WHO

*The UN health body says 33 percent readiness to roll out virus vaccines, based on data provided by 40 African countries on a series of “readiness criteria”, is well below a desired 80 percent benchmark

*The main concerns are a lack of adequate funding plans, monitoring tools and community outreach, says Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa Director

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

As the global world awaits the mass roll-out of the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines for immunisation against the damaging virus soon, the World Health Organisation (WHO)   has urged African countries to improve their capacity to vaccinate their populations.

The UN health body Thursday, November 26, 2020, warned that the continent is still “far from ready” for mass immunisation against the Coronavirus.

With three coronavirus vaccines now showing efficacy rates of 70 percent or more, the UN body called on Africa to “ramp up” preparations for “the continent’s largest ever immunisation drive”.

WHO in a statement said the African region was thus far only 33 percent ready to roll out emerging virus vaccines.

According to the organisation, that figure, based on data provided by 40 countries on a series of “readiness criteria”, is well below a desired 80 percent benchmark.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa Director, said during a virtual media briefing that “planning and preparation will make or break this unprecedented endeavor.”

The body disclosed that the main concerns are a lack of adequate funding plans, monitoring tools and community outreach.

Moeti stated: “There are key logistical and financing gaps where international solidarity will be imperative.”

ConsumerConnect learnt WHO estimates that rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine to just priority populations in Africa will cost around $5.7 billion (4.8 billion Euros).

African countries will be partially subsidised by the COVAX global COVID-19 distribution scheme.

The World Bank has also set aside $12 billion (10.1 billion euros) to help developing countries finance their immunisation programmes.

The aim was to vaccinate three percent of Africa’s population by March 2021, and 20 percent by the end of the year, according to WHO Africa Director.

Meanwhile, other health experts at the briefing as well said additional research was needed to develop vaccines more suitable to the African continent.

They noted that a promising vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which tested at a 95 percent success rate at its latest trial, must be kept at -70 degrees celsius — all but impossible for most hospitals on the continent.

Helen Rees, Chair of the WHO’s Africa Immunisation Advisory Group, said: “We really should be doing some of this vaccine research in the African region.”

Report said so far only Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and South Africa have active COVID-19 vaccine trials.

It is important for the continent not to fall behind on global preparations for COVID-19 vaccinations even though coronavirus infections had somewhat plateaued, said Moeti.

She noted that Africa has been relatively spared compared to the rest of the world, with over 2.1 million cases and 50,000 deaths recorded to date.

The WHO chief, however, warned: “We are starting to see an uptick and that gives us a lot of concern. The curve is once again trending upwards a little bit.”

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