By Mary Hearty

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged African governments to increase their readiness towards the largest ever immunization drive.

According to WHO Vaccine Readiness Assessment Tool update, 40 out of 47 African countries have an average score of 33 percent readiness for a COVID-19 vaccine roll out, which is below the desired benchmark of 80 percent.

“The largest immunization drive in Africa’s history is right around the corner, and African governments must urgently ramp up readiness,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said.

“Planning and preparation will make or break this unprecedented endeavor, and we need active leadership and engagement from the highest levels of government with solid, comprehensive national coordination plans and systems put in place.”

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% of the African population.

However, the WHO analysis of the country readiness data finds only 49 percent have identified the priority populations for vaccination and have plans in place to reach them, and 44 percent have coordination structures in place.

Only 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,” Dr Moeti said.

“If communities are not onboard 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 US$ 5.7 billion. 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 estimates of the average vaccine price at US$ 10.55 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.

This roadmap enables 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.