WHO: Renewed risk for Africa, Europe as Covid-19 vaccination stalls

NAIROBI, 11 June 2021:

The World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday said nine in 10 African countries are set to miss the target of vaccinating 10% of their population against Covid-19, as an aggressive third wave looms over the continent.

With close to five million Covid-19 cases registered across the African Union, the spread of virulent variants and a shortage in vaccines is dangerously exposing vulnerable groups to the pandemic.

“You can clearly see that the variant that was identified in India is getting a hold on the continent. We continue to analyse the situation and see whether there is correlation between the variant and the third wave,” Africa Centers for Disease Prevention and Control director John Nkengasong said.

“With vaccine stocks and shipments drying up, the continent’s vaccination coverage for the first dose remains stuck at 2% and at about 1% in sub-saharan Africa,” WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said.

The African Union has received only 50 million Covid-19 vaccine doses for a population of more than one billion. It accounts for less than 1% of the 2.1 billion doses administered globally.

“Vaccines have been proven to prevent cases and deaths, so countries that can, must urgently share Covid-19 vaccines,” Moeti added.

CoVax, the global initiative to help developing countries gain access to vaccines, has committed to sending 200 million doses this year.

But the WHO has urged to ship at least 225 million doses to the continent by September to reach the 10% target.

The US yesterday announced it would donate 500 million Pfizer/BioNTech doses to lower income countries.

Covid-19 vaccination rates in Europe are also not enough to prevent a resurgence of the virus, WHO said, despite a recent drop in infections in the region.

“Although we’ve come far, we haven’t come far enough,” WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge told a press conference where he urged to speed up vaccinations in Europe.

“Vaccination coverage is far from sufficient to protect the region from a resurgence.”

Kluge highlighted that 30% of the population of Europe have received the first shot of the vaccine, while 17% have been fully inoculated.

“The distance to go before reaching at least 80% coverage of the adult population, is still considerable,” he underlined.

Even though coronavirus cases, hospitalisation and deaths continue to decline for the second consecutive month, widespread community transmission is still present, said Kluge.

“Whilst we should all recognize the progress made across most countries in the region, we must also acknowledge that we are by no means out of danger,” he warned.

Kluge said the highly contagious Delta variant, first found in India, is “poised to take hold.”

“As vaccination coverage increases, we need to stick firmly to protective measures to suppress the virus. This needs to happen, even as cases decline. A combination of public health measures and vaccination – not one or the other – is the way out of this pandemic.”

Kluge also called on people to continue to “wash your hands frequently, keep a distance, choose open settings and wear a mask.”