THE risk of a new wave of infections in Africa remains high, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned after Africa-bound Covid-19 vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India were delayed for the foreseeable future, and new variants making inroads.
The organisation said delays and shortages of vaccine supplies were driving African countries to slip further behind the rest of the world in the vaccine roll-out.
The continent now accounts for only 1% of the vaccines administered worldwide, down from 2% a few weeks ago.
New variants also place Africa at risk of a third wave, said WHO.
The B.1.617 variant, first found in India, has been reported in at least one African country.
The B1.351 strain, first found in South Africa last year, has been spreading in 23 African countries while the B1.1.7 strain, first found in the UK, has been found in 20 countries in the continent.
WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said: “The tragedy in India does not have to happen here in Africa, but we must all be on the highest possible alert. Governments must maintain strong surveillance and detection systems, reassess and bolster their treatment capacities, step up the supply of critical medicines, including medical oxygen and ensure there are enough beds for severely-ill patients.”
Moeti was joined by Thabani Maphosa, managing director for country programmes at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance during a press briefing on Thursday.
She said Africa must also knuckle down and make the best of what it has.
“We must get all the doses we have into people’s arms. It’s a race against time and the virus. Given the limited supply we recommend that countries prioritize giving the first dose to as many high-risk people as possible in the shortest amount of time,” said Moeti.
Africa’s vaccination coverage is the lowest for any region of the world.
While 150 doses have been administered per 1000 people globally, in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s about eight doses per 1000 people.
Low vaccination coverage places African countries at higher risk of a massive upsurge in cases, according to WHO.
The organisation said modelling suggested that vaccinating more people in the highest priority population groups with one dose as opposed to vaccinating half that number with two doses would substantially reduce death rates.