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These countries have a COVID vaccine problem – and it's critical for the world that they succeed

It is hard to understand what COVID does to Africans.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the death toll is greatly undercounted across much of the globe. However, poor data collection in many African countries makes it difficult for us to evaluate the true impact on Africa.

There is evidence that deaths related to COVID in South Africa raise serious concerns. Experts from South Africa’s Medical Research Council think that hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been prevented by the lack of proper paperwork. The death toll actually is three times higher than the 101,000 official figure.

Many African countries have alarmingly low vaccination rates, which is a problem for health officials. Only 17% of Africans are fully vaccinated against COVID. This is far below other regions, such as Europe (65.7%), Asia (69%), South America (74.5%).

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These numbers are made worse by the fact the drive to immunize the public in dozens African countries has effectively stalled.

Nearly half of the vaccine doses that have been delivered to the continent so far have not been used .

Last year, African health officials were looking for a way to ensure supplies after wealthy nations had taken over the majority of the stock.

They now need to find a way to get them in the arms of people. It is crucial that they succeed.


Are “vaccine convoys” the solution?

The failure to meet the WHO’s 70% vaccine target could lead to deadly new strains emerging, which would make it impossible for the world to cope with the virus.

The task is daunting. South Africa’s adult population is less than half vaccinated. Only 1.2% of the population in the Democratic Republic of Congo is fully immunized.

Leading figures such as Dr Ian Sanne of Right to Care, a health organization, have realized that governments and institutions must rethink how they distribute vaccines.

He said, “At the moment the politicians and our procurement systems are focused on getting the vaccines into the country. But the hard part is that they have to deliver them, and roll them out.”

“You’ve seen the process of bringing these vaccines to remote areas.”

Right to Care has assembled a number “vaccine convoys”, funded by USAID, the US government’s development agency. These convoys will venture into the most remote and poorest parts of South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

As the convoy bounced down a series near-impassable tracks before reaching Lundini, we joined it. The 800 residents of the village have never received a COVID vaccination.

This was a lengthy process that required planning, specialist staff and a lot of money. Dr. Sanne claims he can vacate someone in Johannesburg for about US $9. However, it takes almost three times as long to administer a jab at the Eastern Cape rural areas.

This may be the best way to go.

Image Right to Care’s Dr Ian Sanne says that governments must rethink the way they distribute vaccines


“We understand the fear and mistrust”

Ethel Numbezi, a teacher, was hesitant to answer my question. She had never been to Durban on the coast to get a jab. She laughed out loud.

She said, trying not to laugh, “It would prove too difficult,” “because it is far away from us.”

Although funding can help with many logistical problems, it is much more difficult to fix the other. Right to Care’s nurses had difficulty convincing Lundini residents to get the jab. Some residents stated that they were afraid – but almost everyone seemed nervous.

I asked nurse Vuyelwa Lubando to explain.

Image Vuyelwa Lubando states that many people are reluctant about getting vaccinated

“They claim sometimes the government wants to eliminate, um, due to the, um …”

Nurse Lubando pointed her skin.

“You mean black people?” I was curious.

“Yes.”

“The government wants to get rid black people?”

“So, we are trying to say that there isn’t such (thing).

The myths surrounding COVID vaccine side effect have been a problem for health officials. But Heena Brahmbhatt is a senior advisor to USAID and says that the vaccine convoys are a great way to avoid it.

“We underestimated the fear and mistrust that exists, as well as the use of social media to spread misinformation. But if (vaccines are) given to the people, they will likely get vaccinated ….. People are lined up behind me. This is a rare occurrence in urban areas in South Africa.

Continue reading: What is the COVID situation at your local hospital?

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How can you create a misinformation vaccine.


Disturbing Data shows the scale of the problem

Many other African countries are facing worsening situations due to so-called vaccine hesitation. This is combined with other factors that can suppress vaccination rates.

The WHO dashboard shows that the levels of “vaccine absorption”, which is the use of COVID vaccines in their available stock, are alarmingly low in countries such as Cameroon where only 15% has been used.

Only 8% of the available vaccines were administered in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is disturbingly low compared to Burundi’s 2%.

The average number of vaccines given in each country since the pandemic started and the time it would take to reach the WHO’s 70% target, the numbers raise serious concerns.

Based on its past performance, Cameroon will not achieve the 70% target before 2036. To meet the WHO target, the DRC would need an additional 41 years or 2070. Burundi’s people would have to wait till 2194, at which time they would be dead.

Continue reading: Who will receive autumn COVID booster jabs

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How can we live with COVID.

This is an academic exercise. It is a reflection on how certain countries have fared to this point. And it shows how much work remains – Liya Temeselew (Policy Associate at the Tony Blair Institute).

She said that “despite competing priorities and limited funds, governments in Africa continue using innovative methods for vaccination campaigns.”

“Example: In Ghana, vaccination campaigns include intense social awareness campaigns to fight vaccine hesitancy, and health workers going door-to-door to make vaccines more available to the public.

“The international community must work with governments to invest in the last mile delivery, so that COVID-19’s economic and health costs are minimized.”

¹ This is calculated by taking the number of people that need to be vaccinated to cover 70% of each country’s population, and dividing this number by the average number of people fully vaccinated each month thus far. This calculation assumes that there will be no significant increase or decrease in vaccine demand and supply in the future.

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