By James Ochieng

Out of Africa’s 54 nations only 10% are projected to hit the year-end target of fully vaccinating 40% of their people unless efforts are undertaken, states the World Health Organization (WHO).

So far, only three countries, Seychelles, Mauritius and Morocco, have met the goal with Tunisia and Cape Verde expected to join them.

Key among the challenges facing these vaccination efforts in the continent is unavailability of syringes, according to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa Regional Director.

“The looming threat of a vaccine commodities crisis hangs over the continent. Early next year COVID-19 vaccines will start pouring into Africa, but a scarcity of syringes could paralyze progress. Drastic measures must be taken to boost syringe production, fast. Countless African lives depend on it,” she said.

The United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reported an imminent shortfall of up to 2.2 billion auto-disable syringes for COVID-19 vaccination and routine immunization in 2022. This includes 0.3ml auto-disposable syringes for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination. The competition for the 0.3ml specialized syringes is tight and they differ from the 0.5ml which used for other types of COVID-19 vaccines and routine vaccination.

Already, some African countries, like Kenya, Rwanda, and South Africa, have experienced delays in receiving syringes, and unless drastic measures are taken to boost syringe production, Africa faces a crisis.

With only 77 million people fully vaccinated which accounts for just 5.7% of the continent’s population, COVID-19 still poses a real risk to populations not only in Africa but globally.

From October to date, around 50 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have arrived in Africa, which is almost double what was shipped in September. COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX), the global platform to ensure equitable access to vaccines, has delivered almost 90% percent of the vaccines deployed this month and has accelerated its shipments since July.

However, at the current pace, Africa still faces a 275 million shortfall of COVID-19 vaccines against the year-end target of fully vaccinating 40% of its people.

The African Union announced that they will buy 110 million Moderna doses with 15 million due to arrive before the end of 2021 to boost up the vaccination process. African countries have administered just over two thirds of the vaccines they received.

African countries still need to improve their readiness for COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. Forty-two percent of countries in the African region have not yet completed district level plans for their campaigns, while nearly 40% have not yet undertaken intra-action reviews which are key to refining and improving their vaccination campaigns.

“In Africa, planning must become much more granular. This way we can spot challenges before they arise and nip any problems in the bud. WHO is supporting African countries in developing, improving and implementing their National Vaccine Deployment Plans and continually refining their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts as they proceed,” said Dr. Moeti.

WHO is supporting countries on all aspects of readiness to speed-up and expand the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, including action to encourage communities to get vaccinated, to expand vaccination sites and to expand the age range of people eligible for vaccination, as well as ensuring the needed operational financing, the human resources, and cold chain capacities are in place.