As the global rollout of vaccines accelerates, East Africa remains on its toes as it is significantly behind in vaccination compared with other parts of the world, raising the risk of the region failing to contain the ongoing pandemic.
The region faces a real risk of failing to secure sufficient doses on time to vaccinate at least 60 percent of its population and achieve herd immunity to contain a mutating virus and the imminent threat of the third wave of coronavirus infections.
Worse still, the majority of countries in the region lack a rapid deployment plan. Rolling out effective awareness campaigns to address vaccine hesitancy is also a major challenge as many remain sceptical.
This coupled with limited access to sufficient doses means that the region is walking a tightrope – the risk of escalation of the ongoing health crisis and prolonged economic damage.
This week, Africa is expected to surpass the four million Covid-19-infection mark since the continent’s first confirmed case in February 2020, according to estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Over 106,000 lives have been lost so far.
According to the WHO, 10 countries have started vaccination using Covax-funded vaccines, while another 10 began with vaccines procured outside the Covax facility – either bilaterally or through donations. More than 518,000 doses of Covax-supplied vaccines have been administered.
“Every new Covid-19 vaccine delivery to Africa is a step towards equity and ensuring we get our lives and livelihoods back,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa in a press statement released on Friday.
“But doses will remain limited and it’s critical that frontline health workers and other priority groups are at the front of the queue. Health workers deserve protection because without their pivotal role, efforts against the pandemic can go only so far.”
With the exception of Rwanda which has so far vaccinated over 200,000 within one week of receiving its first doses, progress with vaccination remains slow in Kenya and Uganda which have so far vaccinated less than 100,000 people.
As of March 11, Rwanda had vaccinated 238,942 people including frontline health workers, people aged 65 and above, people living with chronic health conditions, people with disabilities and teachers.
The list also includes security personnel, airport staff, service providers (hospitality/ tourism industry), government officials, journalists, refugees, prisoners, motorcyclists, taxi drivers and market vendors.
“We are mobilising more doses to allow us to continue to vaccinate more people,” said an official at Rwanda’s Ministry of Health on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the press.
While Rwanda was allocated 744,000 AstraZeneca and 102,960 Pfizer-BioNTech doses under Covax facility – a co-financing vaccine procurement mechanism set up to ensure equitable access to obtain vaccines, it is currently negotiating with other partners to acquire more doses that are required for it to meet its ambitious target of vaccinating at least 30 percent of its 12 million people by end of this year.
The WHO has urged countries to ensure that most health workers, if not all, have received their vaccine shots in the first 100 days of the year.