COVID-19 vaccine: WHO Africa hopes for ‘at least 20% of population’ to be vaccinated

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation’s leader of African response to the coronavirus tells Doha Debates that “African countries should get ready” to distribute the COVID vaccine

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“We are telling African countries to get ready now. […] We’ve seen wealthy Western countries entering into advanced purchase agreements with vaccine manufacturers to reserve doses. So, from the African perspective, we are very concerned”.

Dr Moeti added that the COVID-19 response team is hoping for “at least 20% of populations to be covered [with vaccines] in Africa, starting with the most vulnerable”, as soon as possible.

COVID-19 vaccines in Africa

How a vaccine would be distributed

According to the doctor, a “pooled approach” would be encouraged in order to “constitute a market that’s going to be competing”. This would include doing an assessment a country’s readiness.

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“We’re working with the African countries to get ready now. In fact, we are doing an assessment of their readiness and preparing to roll out the vaccine in terms of all the logistics, the technical work that needs to be done”.

Dr Moeti said that its encouraging to see the “emergence of the two vaccine candidates” in Phase 3 trials, and explained that while it’s important to “wait for full efficacy and safety data to be available”, African countries should also be “gearing up to make sure there is equitable distribution in Africa”.

From past experiences, it’s clear that Africa is always at the back of the queue when the benefits of new technology rolls out, with Dr Moeti adding it sometimes “takes a decade for a new technology to be available in Africa”.

“Coming from Africa, I have to say our experience has been in the past that when a new technology comes out, African countries are at the back of the queue to get it. We’ve seen sometimes it takes a decade for a new technology to be available in Africa, in a scaled-up fashion in our health systems”.

Geography, financial and racial inequality

In order to ensure that doesn’t happen during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Moeti says a “coalition was established at a global level to guard against inequity in the distribution of the vaccine.”

It’s up to the WHO and Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) to ensure that low-income, middle-income and high-income countries partnering and contributing financially “have equity”.

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Dr Moeti hopes that geography, income level of countries and also racial inequality won’t play its part in delay distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The COVAX facility, a global initiative that brings together governments and manufacturers to ensure eventual COVID-19 vaccines reach those in greatest need, will assist in “reduce the chances of inequitable access”.

Africa post-COVID-19

On speaking about the future on healthcare in Africa after COVID-19, Dr Moeti pointed out that many people on the continent still don’t have access to medical insurance.

In most cases, citizens in various countries across Africa must pay out of pocket for medical service, and those who lose their livelihoods won’t be able to afford healthcare.

This is problematic, considering the spike in unemployment due to the worldwide pandemic. Dr Moeti says African countries will struggle to finance healthcare “because their economies are so severely affected by the pandemic”.

“Therefore, this is going to have a wholesale impact on health, not only now but going into the future”.

Also read: Ramaphosa: COVID-19 vaccine to be manufactured in SA