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Delays in Vaccine Rollout Put African Lives on Hold 


FILE - A worker looks on as the second delivery of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is offloaded at the O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb. 27, 2021. (Kim Ludbrook/Pool via Reuters)

The World Health Organization warns delays in the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine to countries in Africa are putting lives at risk and threatening the continued spread of the coronavirus on the continent and across borders. To date, the WHO reports 4.7 million COVID-19 cases across Africa, including 127,000 deaths.

FILE - Health workers attend to patients in tents at the parking lot of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, amid a nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, in Pretoria, South Africa, Jan. 11, 2021.
FILE - Health workers attend to patients in tents at the parking lot of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, amid a nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, in Pretoria, South Africa, Jan. 11, 2021.

Shipments of COVID-19 vaccine to Africa slowed to a trickle earlier this month. Its main supplier, India’s Serum Institute, retained the doses to tackle a devastating surge of domestic cases.

That has essentially brought the rollout of the life-saving product across Africa to a screeching halt. So far, the WHO says only 24 million people in a continent of more than one billion have received at least one vaccine dose and 5.5 million have received two doses.

WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti deplores the inequities that exist between countries that have access to COVID-19 vaccine and those who do not.

In Africa, she says fewer than 2 in 100 people or 2% have received one vaccine dose compared to more than eight out of 10 people or 80% in some high-income countries.

“This means that as people living in richer countries can hit the reset button this summer and their lives will return to a semblance of normal, in Africa our lives will continue to be on hold. We can still catch up and make up for the lost ground, but time is running out," she said.

FILE - Mary Nyoka, 65, of South Sudan gets the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at Swinga Health Centre 3 in Bidibidi. settlement, Yumbe district, northern Uganda. (Halima Athumani/VOA)
FILE - Mary Nyoka, 65, of South Sudan gets the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at Swinga Health Centre 3 in Bidibidi. settlement, Yumbe district, northern Uganda. (Halima Athumani/VOA)

Moeti says Africa is also suffering from a severe shortage of money to pay for the operational costs of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. She says urgent action and international solidarity is crucial in ensuring Africa can obtain the vaccines it needs and finance the rollout.

“We welcome the pledge by the United States this week to share 80 million doses with other countries, with a substantial proportion expected to go through COVAX, in addition to recent shipments of vaccines from France to Mauritania, and pledges by several other high-income countries," she said.

The World Bank estimates every month of delay in the provision of COVID-19 vaccine to Africa could cost the continent close to $14 billion in lost GDP. The financial institution so far has provided $1 billion to help 39 African countries tackle the pandemic.

Last fall, its board of directors also approved a $12 billion package to help countries purchase and deploy COVID-19 vaccines.

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