The U.S. is to ship nearly 10 million shots to Nigeria and South Africa.
The United States is ramping up vaccine shipments to Africa as a third wave of the pandemic continues to accelerate across the continent.
Washington was due to ship nearly 10 million Covid-19 vaccines to two of Africa’s most populous countries on Wednesday, with 5.6 million doses of Pfizer in South Africa and four million doses of Moderna in Nigeria. The deliveries are part of a pledge by President Biden in June to share 80 million doses worldwide – with around 25 million doses expected to arrive in 49 African states.
Over the past two weeks, Covax, the global vaccine partnership, has, together with the African Union, delivered millions of Johnson & Johnson doses from the United States to countries such as Cameroon, Central African Republic, Djibouti, The Gambia, Lesotho, Niger, Tunisia and Zambia. The latest shipments to Nigeria and South Africa bring the total number of vaccines donated to 16.4 million doses.
Donations from the United States come as Africa continues to lag behind the rest of the world on Covid vaccination. According to the World Health Organization, only about 21 million of the continent’s 1.3 billion people have been fully immunized, with 77 percent of all doses received having already been administered. At current rates, nearly two-thirds of African countries will not meet the WHO target of immunizing 10 percent of their population by the end of September.
The availability of vaccines in Africa has been hampered because rich countries bought excess doses and was further delayed by India’s decision in March to cut vaccine exports, especially supplies from the Serum Institute of India on which Covax mattered. Due to these issues, the African continent is unlikely to be able to meet the longer-term goal of vaccinating 20% of the population by the end of 2022.
The continent is experiencing vaccine shortages even as the severe third wave overwhelms health systems and pushes countries to institute closures and extend curfews overnight. The current increase in cases has been attributed to a lack of inoculation; lack of respect for public health measures, such as wearing a mask and social distancing; and the spread of more contagious variants. More than 20 African countries have seen cases increase by more than 20% for at least two weeks, according to the WHO, with the Delta variant being reported in 26 countries.
The WHO has said political crises in several countries threaten to undermine efforts to immunize and control the virus. This includes Ethiopia, where the conflict in Tigray is expected to escalate, and Eswatini, where deadly anti-government protests erupted this month. In South Africa, the looting and killings that followed the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma had a negative impact on vaccination efforts in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, director Africa health organization.
WHO and the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said vaccine deliveries will continue to escalate. In addition to the United States, millions of doses from the European Union are expected to arrive in the coming weeks. And Britain has said it will start delivering nine million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine this week to countries including Kenya. China has also increased its vaccine pledges to Africa this month, sending doses of Sinovac to countries like Tanzania and Uganda. Covax has announced that it will deliver more than 500 million vaccines to Africa by the end of the year.
Vaccines are now reaching countries like Tanzania, which previously made no effort to secure doses and whose former president downplayed the pandemic and said God helped eliminate the virus.
Saturday, Tanzania received over one million Johnson & Johnson doses the United States. On Wednesday morning, President Samia Suluhu Hassan received her vaccine against Covid-19, marking the start of the country’s vaccination campaign.
During the ceremony, Ms. Hassan assured the public of the safety of the shooting and urged those vaccinated to continue to follow public health measures.
“I agreed to be vaccinated today,” Ms. Hassan said, “just as my body has been vaccinated a lot since childhood.”
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