Geneva — African countries risk a new wave of coronavirus infections because of the slow rollout of life-saving vaccines and the circulation of new variants, the World Health Organization warns.
The WHO reports the epidemic curve in Africa has plateaued for six weeks, with the number of cases now standing at more than 4.5 million, including 123,000 deaths.
However, the U.N. health agency reports that the relatively low number of COVID-19 cases is giving rise to complacency and non-compliance with preventive measures, such as masking and social distancing. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, says the greatest threats to the spread of the infection and a resurgence of cases are delays and shortages of vaccine supplies.
“African countries are slipping further behind the rest of the world in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, now accounting for only one percent of the vaccines administered worldwide, down from two percent a few weeks ago,” Moeti said. “Only around half of the 37 million doses shipped to the continent have been administered so far.”
Moeti says African countries need to step up to get the available shots into people’s arms fast.
So far, the COVAX vaccine-sharing program has delivered some 80 million doses to Africa. COVAX officials say vaccine deliveries from the Serum Institute of India were halted in March because of the dramatic resurgence of COVID-19 in India. This, they note, has resulted in a shortfall of 140 million doses as India uses the vaccines to inoculate its population.
South Africa and India are leading efforts at the World Trade Organization for a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights that are preventing the mass production of generic COVID-19 vaccines. Moeti says she welcomes the U.S. decision to shore up these efforts.
“I would like to add my voice in praising the United States’ decision to support a temporary waiver on patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, which could mark a game-changer for Africa, unlocking millions more doses and saving countless more lives,” she said.
Moeti says the sooner negotiations are wrapped up, the sooner the manufacture and rollout of safe and effective vaccines can take place. In the meantime, she says, one of the quickest and surest ways to save lives is for countries to share their surplus stock of vaccines with countries in need.