The World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Thursday that Africa received less than 2% of the 690 million COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed worldwide so far.
The UN health agency lamented the fact that most African countries had only received vaccines five weeks ago and in limited amounts.
Although 45 African countries have received vaccines, 43 have started vaccinations, and about 13 million of the 31.6 million doses delivered have been given out.
The WHO added that the rate of vaccine rollout is not standardized, noting that 93 percent of vaccine doses were issued in ten countries.
Vaccine rollout preparedness, including training of health workers, prelisting priority groups and coordination has helped some countries quickly reach a large proportion of the targeted high-risk population groups, such as health workers, and the 10 countries that have vaccinated the most have used at least 65 per cent of their supplies, data revealed.
“Although progress is being made, many African countries have barely moved beyond the starting line,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
She added, “Limited stocks and supply bottlenecks are putting COVID-19 vaccines out of reach of many people in this region. Fair access to vaccines must be a reality if we are to collectively make a dent on this pandemic.”
Once delivered, vaccine rollout in some countries has been delayed by operational and financial hurdles or logistical difficulties such as reaching remote locations.
WHO, on its part, says it is supporting countries to tackle the challenges by reinforcing planning and coordination, advocating more financial resources, as well as setting up effective communications strategies to address vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.
It stated that the delays do not only affect vaccine delivery to priority targets, but they also affect the expansion of vaccinations to the rest of the population, some of whom have expressed eagerness to receive the doses.
This comes as WHO sets a target to vaccinate health workers and other priority groups in all countries in the first 100 days of 2021.
“Africa is already playing COVID-19 vaccination catch-up, and the gap is widening. While we acknowledge the immense burden placed by the global demand for vaccines, inequity can only worsen scarcity.
“More than a billion Africans remain on the margins of this historic march to overcome the pandemic,” Dr Moeti said.
Through the COVAX Facility, 16.6 million vaccine doses – mainly AstraZeneca – have been delivered to African countries.
This week, WHO’s Global Advisory Committee for Vaccine Safety concluded that the link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the occurrence of rare blood clots was plausible, but not yet confirmed.
The position was as a result of the announcement by the European Medicines Agency that unusual blood clots should be listed as very rare side-effects of the vaccine.
Among the almost 200 million individuals who have received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine around the world, cases of blood clots and low platelets are extremely low.
However, the Global Advisory Committee for Vaccine Safety has continued to gather and review further data while carefully monitoring the rollout of all COVID-19 vaccines.
Based on current information, WHO considers that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks and that countries in Africa should continue to vaccinate people with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
There have been about 4.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the African continent and 114,000 people have died.
In the past two months, the region has seen a period of around 74,000 new cases per week, the WHO said
While Kenya is experiencing a third wave, the epidemic is showing an upward trend in 14 other African countries, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali, Rwanda, and Tunisia.