As rich nations begin to move closer to herd immunity, Africa is just emerging from the starting brick in the vaccination race.
South Africa is the continent’s most important economy and has been hit the hardest by the number of cases. But only 0.8 percent of the population of about 59 million has been fully vaccinated. Hundreds of thousands of health workers staring at the virus in their white clothes every day remain unvaccinated.
In Nigeria, Africa’s largest country, with a population of over 200 million, less than 0.1 percent is fully vaccinated. In Kenya, which has a population of 50 million, the share is even lower. Uganda had to take back vaccine doses from rural areas because the situation in the major cities worsened.
In at least five countries, not a single dose of the vaccine was given.
Vimada Shamam is the manager of several nursing homes in Durban, South Africa. 22 of her patients died of coronary heart disease.
Eighteen months into the epidemic, daily life in isolated nursing homes is still marked by intense anxiety and loneliness.
Only about half of the 1,600 elderly people responsible for them have been vaccinated.
– They are desperate and disappointed, says Shammam of residents who still haven’t received the valuable sting.
Severe shortage of vaccine
Last year, rich countries were already warned not to hoard vaccine doses at the expense of poor countries.
It is estimated that Africa is short of about 700 million vaccine doses, including those that come through a Covax collaboration and an agreement with pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, which will start in August.
Since January, the World Health Organization and its director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have described the distribution of the vaccine as hideous, unfair and a moral disaster. Recently, the World Health Organization said that vaccine deliveries to Africa have almost stopped and refers to this as a serious vaccine shortage.
The third fear of injury
The delay is related, among other things, to the suspension of India’s export as a result of the serious infection situation in the country in recent months.
It’s very disturbing and frustrating at times, says Director John Nkengasong of Africa CDC.
Africa has distributed vaccine doses to 31 million of a population of about 1.3 billion people. Only seven million have been fully vaccinated. So far, 4.9 million infections and 132,000 deaths have been recorded, but the dark numbers are believed to be significant.
Many now fear a third wave of infection across Africa, driven by more serious virus variants. As a result of poor vaccine deployment and weaker health infrastructure compared to rich countries, the continent in general is ill-prepared to deal with a new wave of infections.
Light at the end of the tunnel
The MasterCard Foundation recently announced that it will contribute $1.3 billion, equivalent to about $13 billion, over the next three years to provide vaccines for another 50 million people in Africa.
The initiative is a collaboration with the Africa Center for Disease Control and will also invest in vaccine production on the continent.
US President Joe Biden announced that they will soon share their reserve stock with disadvantaged countries, five million of which will go to Africa. More will be shared by the end of the year and next year.
The other G7 nations also promised after a meeting in early June that they would do more to improve the situation for vaccines in Africa.
Nkengasong in Africa CDC remains unsure whether rich countries with large reserves of vaccines have caught up to the seriousness.
– I’m an optimist, but not necessarily sure, he says.