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WHO decries slow vaccine uptake in Africa despite increased supplies

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has decried the slow uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa despite the significant increase in supply.

The world health body said this could deter the continent from achieving the much desired goal of innoculating 70 percent of its population.

It argued that the vaccination rate must increase six times if the continent for the continent to meet the target set for the middle of this year, adding that Africa was still struggling to expand rollout, with only 11 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

To date, Africa has received more than 587 million vaccine doses, 58 percent through the COVAX Facility, 36 percent from bilateral deals and 6 percent through Africa Vaccines Acquisition Trust (AVAT) of the African Union.

In January 2022, 96 million doses were shipped to Africa, which is more than double that of six months ago. Increasing deliveries have eased shortages and turned the spotlight on the need for countries to rapidly ramp up vaccine rollout.

“The world has finally heard our calls. Africa is now accessing the vaccines it has demanded for far too long. This is a dose of hope for this year,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said in a statement on Thursday.

“However, a dependable pipeline must go hand in hand with operational funding to move doses out of depots and into people’s arms. WHO and partners are working with countries to urgently fix operational challenges including supporting health workers to speed up vaccine delivery, save lives and beat back this pandemic,” she added.

“Currently 6 million people are vaccinated on average every week in Africa, and this number needs to increase to 36 million to reach the 70 percent target agreed globally. Although Mauritius and Seychelles have already met the 70 percent target and seven African countries have vaccinated 40 percent of their population, vaccination rates on the continent remain low. Twenty-one countries have fully vaccinated less than 10 percent of their populations, while 16 have vaccinated less than 5 percent and three have fully vaccinated less than 2 percent,” the statement read.

The WHO said the slow uptake in COVID-19 vaccines in Africa requires global partners and countries to reset their programmes. It said it would work with UNICEF, IFRC and other partners to scale up efforts to overcome hurdles, improve coordination and speed up vaccination drives.

The continent is now emerging from its fourth pandemic wave driven by the omicron variant. Cases have declined for the third straight week. Over the past week, cases dropped by 15 percent compared with the week before, while deaths fell slightly by 5 percent. Despite the overall decline in deaths in the continent, North Africa reported a 25 percent rise in weekly fatalities.

So far, Africa has recorded 10.8 million cases and over 239 000 deaths cumulatively.

The omicron variant and its three sub lineages have been reported in 37 countries in Africa – of these the highest number of cases has been the original BA.1 sub-lineage with more than 5300 cases in 20 countries. In addition, there have been more than 200 cases of BA.2 the so-called stealth omicron sub lineage in five countries and 43 cases of BA.3 in three countries.

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