African governments must take urgent action to be ready to provide people with vaccines against the coronavirus, said Thursday the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the specialized agency of the African Union (AU ).
The director for Africa of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Matshidiso Moeti, for her part said “concerned” by the discovery of several variants of the virus on the continent during a virtual press briefing which was also held Thursday morning. “Discovering new variations is not surprising,” she recalled, “but some of these changes may be of concern.”
The AU announced on Wednesday that it had obtained 270 million anti-Covid vaccines for the continent, which most countries cannot afford to finance the immunization of their populations.
“We cannot wait. This is not a polio or measles vaccination. We have to do it quickly. Our economies are suffering, our people are dying,” John said at a press conference Thursday. Nkengasong, director of Africa CDC.
“There is absolutely no reason why accelerated preparations should not take place,” he added.
The Africa CDC has set a target of 60% of Africans vaccinated against Covid-19 in 2021 and 2022.
Mr. Nkengasong said states must act quickly to organize storage sites in large cities, train health workers, secure the supply of materials such as needles, and create effective systems for monitoring vaccinations performed.
He said governments would be able to start ordering through an AU platform in the coming days. According to the latter, at least 50 million doses will be available between April and June.
AU vaccines – provided by Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson – will complement those secured through Covax, an initiative by WHO and private partners, which aims for equitable access to vaccines.
Recent studies have revealed that the variant of the virus found in South Africa, 501Y.V2, is more transmissible and has so far been found in three other countries on the continent, Botswana, Gambia and Zambia.
“But frankly, we think there is a good chance that it will be present in other countries as well,” said Dr Moeti.
A network of twelve African laboratories are working together and have currently sequenced 5,000 samples of the virus, an essential operation to detect potential new strains, their dangerousness, their level of propagation and penetration.
“We need more sequencing, we need to know our epidemic in order to be able to fight it,” said Professor Francisca Mutapi.
Another variant has been discovered in Nigeria, but research is still ongoing to determine whether “it may be associated with any changes in the flow of the epidemic or in its mortality,” said Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, director of the epidemic. National Center for Infectious Diseases.
The most populous country in Africa lacks hospital structures, but also very largely oxygen and resuscitation beds. Authorities announced last week that 100,000 doses of the vaccine “could” arrive by the end of the month.
Africa has recorded 3.1 million cases of Covid-19 (3.5% of the global total) and around 75,000 deaths (2.4% of the total), but the number of tests remains very insufficient.
However, over the past month, contamination has increased by an average of 18% per week, with a particularly significant increase in the West and South of the continent.
Around 30,000 new cases are currently recorded across Africa every day, up from 18,000 in the first wave of coronavirus last year, CDC’s Nkengasong said.