Logistical challenges hamper COVID-19 vaccination drives in Africa

by Reuters
Thursday, 25 November 2021 12:20 GMT

A.Bize, member of the Nigerian Legion, receives a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine during the roll out of mass vaccination in Abuja, Nigeria, November 19, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

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Africa is far from reaching the African Union's aim of fully vaccinating 70% of people by the end of 2022, with only 55% of distributed COVID-19 vaccines having been administered

By Maggie Fick

NAIROBI, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Many African nations are struggling with the logistics of accelerating their COVID-19 inoculation campaigns as deliveries of vaccines to the continent finally pick up, the head of Africa's disease control body said on Thursday.

Only 6.6% of Africa's population of 1.2 billion is fully vaccinated, John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told a virtual news conference.

That means Africa is far from reaching the African Union's aim of fully vaccinating 70% of people by the end of 2022, he said.

"What we are seeing now is a lot more vaccines coming in and the uptake is challenged because of the logistics and delivery," said Nkengasong. "It's not necessarily about hesitancy, it's about moving vaccines from the airport to the arms (of people), it's about logistics."

Africa's slow absorption of the vaccines is also affecting the health sector, where only one in four workers has been fully vaccinated, the World Health Organization's Africa office said.

"Unless our doctors, nurses and other frontline workers get full protection, we risk a blowback in the efforts to curb this disease," Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for Africa, told a separate briefing.

Nkengasong said Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon faced particular logistical challenges.

Congo has administered about 168,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, a Reuters tracker showed, enough to have fully vaccinated 0.1% of the population.

In April, authorities reallocated to other African countries most of the 1.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses that Congo had received a month earlier from the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility because they were set to expire.

Across Africa, authorities successfully conduct routine mass vaccination campaigns against diseases such as measles. But many struggled earlier in the year when COVID-19 doses arrived, citing shortages of funding, training and cold storage.

Of some 403 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed to 54 African countries, 55% -- or 221 million -- have been administered.

South Africa has asked Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and Pfizer (PFE.N) to delay delivery of more COVID-19 vaccines because it now has too many in stock, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

Namibia warned on Thursday that more than 268,000 doses of AstraZeneca and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines were at risk of being destroyed, some as early as next week, due to slow uptake.

(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Gareth Jones and Timothy Heritage)