Africa is in danger of being left behind in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines as countries in other regions strike bilateral deals, thus driving up prices, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday.
Although vaccines have been administered in 50 wealthier nations, Guinea is the sole low-income country on the continent to receive doses, with only 25 people being inoculated so far. Meanwhile, Seychelles is the only African country to start a national vaccination campaign.
'We first, not me first'
"We first, not me first, is the only way to end the pandemic. Vaccine hoarding will only prolong the ordeal and delay Africa's recovery. It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk groups in rich countries are made safe", said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
"Health workers and vulnerable people in Africa need urgent access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines."
An international coalition known as the COVAX Facility was established to ensure all countries will have equal access to any vaccines against the new coronavirus disease.
It is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and WHO.
The COVAX Facility has secured two billion doses of vaccine from five producers, with options for over one billion more. Delivery is set to begin soon, according to Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director, Country Programmes at GAVI.
"This massive international undertaking has been made possible thanks to donations, work towards dose-sharing deals and deals with manufacturers that have brought us to almost two billion doses secured. We look forward to rollout in the coming weeks", he said.
COVAX has committed to vaccinating at least 20 per cent of the population in Africa by the end of this year.
Priority will be given to health workers and other vulnerable groups, such as older persons and those with pre-existing health conditions.
An initial 30 million vaccine doses are expected to begin arriving in countries by March. Overall, a maximum of 600 million doses will be disbursed, based on two doses per person.
WHO said timelines and quantities could change, for example if vaccines fail to meet regulatory approval or due to challenges related to production, delivery and funding.