By Sharon Atieno

Africa needs at least 20 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by mid-July for those who received their first jab to meet the set interval between doses of eight to twelve weeks, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

“Africa needs vaccines now. Any pause in our vaccination campaigns will lead to lost lives and lost hope,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Africa region director said during a virtual media briefing.

A single dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine gives around 70% protection for a minimum of twelve weeks. Though data is limited on the protection of the first does after twelve weeks, the full course provided with a 12-week interval gives 81% protection for an extended period.

Additionally, another 200 million doses are needed so that the continent can vaccinate 10% of its population by September this year as called for by the WHO Director-General at the World Health Assembly this week.

Despite 1.5 billion doses of COVID-19 being administered globally, only 28 million doses have been administered in Africa. This is less than two doses administered per 100 people in Africa.

Dr. Moeti called on countries that have already vaccinated their high-risk groups, to significantly expand and bring forward their pledges to share doses.

“Dose sharing is an urgent, critical and short-term solution to ensuring that Africans at greatest risk from COVID-19 get gold standard protection,” she said, while appealing to manufacturers to ensure countries can contractually give doses to the COVAX Facility.

France is the first country to share COVID-19 vaccines from its domestic supply, donating over 31 000 doses to Mauritania, with another 74 400 set for imminent delivery. It has pledged to share half a million more doses with six African countries in the next few weeks.

The European Union and its Member States have pledged over 100 million doses for low-income countries by the end of 2021. The United States of America has pledged to share 80 million doses with lower-income countries, and other high-income countries have expressed interest in sharing vaccines.

African countries that are unable to use all their vaccines are sharing them across the continent. While this prevents vaccine wastage, WHO said in a statement, redistributing doses is costly and countries must roll out all available doses as soon as possible.

Kenya is set to receive 72,000 vaccines from South Sudan to help with its second vaccination drive.

South Sudan which was given 132,000 doses has only distributed 8,000 doses and has cited a slow initial uptake by health workers, parliamentary delays in approving vaccine use and a lengthy training of people to administer the vaccine as some of the reasons it is unable to fully administer the doses before their expiration.