Why does Africa still wait for Covid vaccines?

As several countries around the world launch vaccination campaigns against the Covid-19, Africans have no choice but to remain patient…

As several countries around the world launch vaccination campaigns against the Covid-19, Africans have no choice but to remain patient before they can access the jab. Why?By Abdourahmane Diallo

How is Africa preparing to receive the anticipated coronavirus vaccines? The continent has so far only posted an average readiness score for the deployment of the vaccine against the new coronavirus, the circulation of which started in several regions of the world. 

With a score of only 33 percent, African countries remain very far from the reference level of 80 percent.

With the exception of Morocco, the only country on the continent that is on the verge of launching its vaccination campaign, other African countries still have to be patient before they receive and administer the precious jab to their populations.

This situation already prompted, at the end of November, the WHO Regional Director, Matshidiso Moeti, to urge African governments to “urgently intensify their preparations.” 

The boss of the UN specialized organization for the continent then warned that “planning and preparations will be decisive for this unprecedented task” in Africa’s health history.

Speaking that day during a virtual press conference on the epidemiological situation of the continent, Ms. Moeti noted that African countries and partners in her organization need “strong and comprehensive national coordination plans, as well as the systems in place.” 

According to her, Africans “need active leadership and commitment at the highest levels of government.”

The 47 African countries covered by WHO-Africa have received the assessment tool that prepares for the introduction of the vaccine against Covid-19. 

But challenges related to the lack of funding, measuring instruments and communication with the populations must be met. 

To achieve these objectives, “international solidarity will be imperative,” Ms. Moeti said.

Cost and Access

Apart from the preparatory aspect and the deployment, access to the vaccine is the other major challenge. 

The WHO estimates the cost of deployment in Africa to priority populations at around $5.7 billion.

This amount does not include the additional costs of 15-20 percent for injection equipment and vaccine delivery, requiring trained health workers, a supply chain and community mobilization. 

It is calculated based on the assumption of an average vaccine price of $ 10.55 per dose, knowing that two doses will be required.

The WHO is working with partners like “Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance” to ensure equitable access to vaccines on the continent. 

This organization is a member of the Coalition for Innovations in Epidemic Preparedness (Covax). 

This is in fact the global risk-sharing mechanism for the group purchasing and equitable distribution of future vaccines against Covid-19.

Senegalese anthropologist Ibrahim Niang, tells APA that Africa should however be on its guard. 

“Unequal relations at the international level should not affect the appropriation and circulation of vaccines and we should not be caught in the trap of international economic and political relations that are beyond us,” the researcher warns.

Already, “Africa should begin to speak with one voice to have a coherent response adapted to our different contexts,” he suggests.

According to WHO analysis, only 12 percent of countries have plans for communicating with communities to build trust and generate demand for immunization. 

This is yet another testament to the work that remains to be done because “developing a safe and effective vaccine is only the first step in a successful deployment,” noted Dr. Moeti.

The role of communities

There is no doubt that “if communities are not involved and convinced that the vaccine will protect their health, we will make little progress,” she said, calling on the authorities to address the communities and be “attentive to their concerns.”

Senegalese Ibrahim Niang did a lot of work in this field of communication when the Ebola virus epidemic appeared in Guinea a few years ago. 

For him, “if there has been resistance to vaccines in Africa, it is because since the past century, there have been a lot of tests that have been done on African populations, particularly black, without the respect for ethical considerations.” 

The anthropologist therefore considers the feeling of fear “normal” because of the “violent memories.”

But, he puts into perspective, “vaccines are accepted by communities. They use them and even ask for them sometimes. Everything will depend on the answers to the following questions: “How do we discuss it?” What is the population’s share of ownership of these vaccines? And how can populations themselves control their effectiveness and the safety of the vaccine?”

Answering these questions is for him the only way that would allow the future vaccination campaign against Covid-19 not to be perceived as “an authoritarian response.”

For the Senegalese expert, social science researchers should be called upon to “help see what lever to rely on to have community mobilization around the issue of the vaccine and the dynamics of the epidemic.”

WHO plans to vaccinate at least 3 percent of Africa’s population by March 2021 and hopes to reach 20 percent by the end of next year.