A lack of available Covid doses and syringes to administer them could hamper efforts to help African countries meet their goal of vaccinating 40% of their populations by the end of the year, a milestone less than 10% of the countries in Africa have so far attained, the World Health Organization’s Africa region announced Thursday.
In May 2021, the World Health Assembly, the governing body of the WHO, established a goal of vaccinating 40% of all Africans by year-end.
Only three nations (Seychelles, Mauritius and Morocco) have already reached that threshold and just two others (Tunisia and Cabo Verde) are on track to do so.
In total, 77 million people in Africa, representing just 6% of the continent’s population, have been fully vaccinated, according to the World Health Organization.
The WHO said Thursday it is leading emergency support missions to five African countries to expedite and improve Covid-19 vaccine rollouts and beginning to coordinate missions to 10 other nations before the end of the year.
Encouragingly, Africa has received a growing number of Covid-19 vaccine doses, with approximately 50 million doses accepted this month, which is nearly double the amount received in September.
Still, a global lack of vaccine syringes may potentially stall immunization efforts: on Wednesday, United Nations Children’s Fund Executive Director Henrietta Fore declared there could be a global shortage of up to 2.2 billion of the auto-disable syringes required to administer Covid-19 vaccines.
The United Nations-backed COVAX program has accounted for nearly 90% percent of the vaccines delivered to Africa thus far in October. However, even at this accelerated pace, Africa will still be unable to reach a 40% vaccination rate by the end of December, as they will be some 275 million doses short, according to the WHO’s most recent estimates. The lack of syringes could further hamper vaccination efforts. “Without action now, the world could face a serious shortage of Covid vaccine syringes by the end of 2022, with potentially dire consequences for the global effort to bring the pandemic under control,” Fore said in a statement, adding that UNICEF is working with several partners, including the United States and COVAX, to address the issue preemptively. According to the WHO, some large African countries, such as Kenya, Rwanda, and South Africa, are already dealing with delays in syringe shipments.
“The looming threat of a vaccine commodities crisis hangs over the continent. Early next year, Covid-19 vaccines will start pouring into Africa, but a scarcity of syringes could paralyze progress,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, in a virtual news briefing Thursday. “Drastic measures must be taken to boost syringe production, fast. Countless African lives depend on it.”
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UNICEF says that in order to avert a dreaded syringe shortfall, an “end to ‘syringe nationalism’ and the hoarding of desperately needed safe injection equipment” is required.
8.5 million. That’s the number of confirmed coronavirus cases that have been detected in Africa since the start of the pandemic, resulting in more than 217,000 deaths.