As the race to find a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is showing increasing promise, a new World Health Organization (WHO) analysis finds that Africa is far from ready for what will be the continent’s largest ever immunisation drive.
All 47 countries in the WHO African Region have received WHO’s Vaccine Readiness Assessment Tool which is intended to be used by Ministries of Health, with support from WHO and UNICEF.
It provides a roadmap for countries to plan for COVID-19 vaccine introduction and covers 10 key areas: planning and coordination, resources and funding, vaccine regulations, service delivery, training and supervision, monitoring and evaluation, vaccine logistics, vaccine safety and surveillance and communications and community engagement.
Forty countries have updated the tool and provided data to WHO. An analysis finds that based on the self-reports by the countries, the African region has an average score of 33 percent readiness for a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, which is well below the desired benchmark of 80 percent.
WHO together with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation and other partners is working to ensure equitable access to vaccines in Africa through the COVAX facility, the vaccines pillar of the WHO Access to COVID-19 tools accelerator.
When vaccines are licensed and approved, COVAX will work to secure enough doses to provide protection to an initial 20 percent of the African population.
Based on the analysis, only 49 percent of the African countries have identified the priority populations for vaccination and have plans in place to reach them while 44 percent have coordination structures in place.
Less than a quarter of the governments on the continent (24 percent) have adequate plans for resources and funding, 17 percent have data collection and monitoring tools ready and just 12 percent have plans to communicate with communities to build trust and drive demand for immunization.
“Developing a safe and effective vaccine is just the first step in a successful rollout,” said Dr Moeti. “If communities are not on board and convinced that a vaccine will protect their health, we will make little headway. It’s critical that countries reach out to communities and hear their concerns and give them a voice in the process.”
WHO estimates the cost of rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine on the African continent to priority populations will be around $ 5.7 billion (Shs 21.3 trillion).
This does not include an additional 15 – 20 percent cost for injection materials and the delivery of vaccines, which require trained health workers, supply chain and logistics and community mobilization.
This cost is based on COVAX facility, which was set up by WHO and other organizations to ensure equitable access to the vaccine by all countries when it becomes available. The facility estimates that the average vaccine price will be $ 10.55 (Shs 39,500) per dose and that a two-dose regimen will be needed.
WHO and partners recently released guidance on COVID-19 vaccination planning and deployment for national governments, aiming to help them design strategies for the deployment, implementation and monitoring of COVID-19 vaccines and better integrate their strategies and financing to boost efficiency.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa revealed this during a virtual press conference on Thursday that all the 47 countries in the WHO African region have received WHO’s vaccine readiness assessment tool which is intended to be used by Ministries of Health to provide a roadmap for vaccine introduction.
Moeti said WHO’s vaccine readiness assessment tool covers 10 key areas that include planning and coordination, resources and funding, vaccine regulations, service delivery, training and supervision, monitoring and evaluation, vaccine logistics, vaccine safety and surveillance and communications and community engagement.
The latest data by WHO shows only 40 countries have updated the tool and provided the required data.
For those that have provided the data, the analysis finds that based on the self-reports by the countries, the African region has an average score of 33 percent readiness for a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, which is well below the desired benchmark of 80 percent.
Moeti said this data is a wake up call for Africa to wake up since vaccine trials are currently giving promising results for the vaccine to be ready earlier than it was anticipated.
“The largest immunization drive in Africa’s history is right around the corner, and African governments must urgently ramp up readiness. Planning and preparation will make or break this unprecedented endeavour, and we need active leadership and engagement from the highest levels of government with solid, comprehensive national coordination plans and systems put in place,” said Moeti.
COVAX had earlier planned to provide the continent with doses to provide protection to an initial 20 percent of the African population.