The World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa said Thursday the number of new COVID-19 cases on the continent fell by 23 percent last week, the steepest drop in eight weeks since a peak in July.
During her weekly COVID-19 briefing, though, WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said that while those figures are good news and an indication the third wave of infections is on a “downward slide,” variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, particularly the Delta variant, have sparked flare-ups, prolonging the “acute phase” of the third wave for longer than expected.
At the same time, she said, Africa has passed the sad milestone of 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Moeti said scientists also are tracking a new variant, C.1.2, a variant found in 130 cases in 10 countries globally, including five African countries with over 90 percent of the cases. But she said so far there is no evidence that C.1.2 is more transmissible or that that it affects the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
On the subject of vaccines, Moeti said shipments to the continent continue to grow, with about 5.5 million doses received through the WHO-managed vaccine cooperative COVAX in the first week of September.
However, Africa’s Center for Disease Control says just over 3 percent of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated. And Moeti said COVAX Wednesday revised downward its vaccine shipment forecast for the rest of the year, for a number of reasons, which means the continent can expect 25 percent fewer vaccine doses.
She blamed the reduced shipments, at least partly on “the prioritization of bilateral deals” between wealthy nations and pharmaceutical companies “over international solidarity.”
Moeti said that high-income nations have pledged to share 1 billion doses globally, but so far, only 120 million have been released. She said, “Every dose is precious. If companies and countries prioritize vaccine equity, this pandemic would be over quickly.”
She said to ultimately tip the scales against the pandemic, efforts to reduce transmission through public health measures like mask-wearing must be accompanied by a significant increase in vaccine supplies and vaccinations.