The World Health Organization is warning that COVID-19 vaccine export bans and hoarding by wealthy countries will prolong the pandemic in Africa, preventing recovery from the disease in the rest of the world.
While more than 60% of the U.S., European Union, and British populations have been vaccinated, only 2% of COVID vaccine shots have been given in Africa.
The COVAX facility has slashed its planned COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to Africa by 25% this year. WHO Africa regional director Matshidiso Moeti says the 470 million doses now expected to arrive by the end of December are enough to vaccinate just 17% of Africans on the continent.
“Export bans and vaccine hoarding still have a chokehold on the lifeline of vaccine supplies to Africa.… Even if all planned shipments via COVAX and the African Union arrive, Africa still needs almost 500 million more doses to reach the year-end goal. At this rate, the continent may only reach the 40% target by the end of March next year,” Moeti said.
The WHO reports more than 8 million cases of COVID-19 in Africa, including more than 200,000 deaths. Forty-four African countries have reported the alpha variant and 32 countries have reported the more virulent and contagious delta variant.
Moeti warns of further waves of infection and loss of life in this pandemic. Given the short supply of vaccines, she urges strict adherence to preventive measures, such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
She reiterates WHO’s call for a halt to booster shots in wealthy nations, except for those with compromised immune systems and at risk of severe illness and death.
“I have said many times that it is in everyone’s interest to make sure the most at-risk groups in every country are protected. As it stands, the huge gaps in vaccine equity are not closing anywhere near fast enough. The quickest way to end this pandemic is for countries with reserves to release their doses so that other countries can buy them,” she said.
Moeti said African countries with low vaccination rates are breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants. She warned this could end up sending the world back to square 1, with the pandemic continuing to ravage communities worldwide if vaccine inequity is allowed to persist.