African public health experts Thursday praised President Biden’s plan to expand global donations of coronavirus vaccines, but warned his ambitious goals would not be met without timely deliveries and greater transparency about when and how many doses are coming.
Africa, the continent with the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rate, has suffered not only from a shortage of vaccines, but also from delayed and inconsistent deliveries. While supplies are mounting — with four million doses arriving in the past week from Covax, the global vaccine-sharing facility — African countries have received only a third of this year’s pledged doses, experts said during a virtual briefing from the United Nations. World Health Organisation.
“The first thing to say is that we appreciate all the donations pledged by the rich countries and those who have doses to offer, but we call for a commitment to deliver and deliver on time,” said Githinji Gitahi, chief executive of Amref Health Africa, a charity.
At a summit on Wednesday, Mr. Biden pledged to donate another 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, nearly doubling the United States’ total pledged donations to 1.1 billion doses, more than any other country. But only 300 million are expected to be shipped this year, leaving poorer countries with the prospect of an increasingly long wait.
Biden embraced the goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the world’s population by the end of 2022, but that would require the vaccination rate in Africa to be increased sixfold, to about 150 million doses per month, said Benido Impouma, a program director with the Africa program. of the World Health Organisation.
“It’s in every country’s interest for this to happen quickly,” said Dr. Impouma on the continent’s vaccination campaign. “The longer the delay in vaccine rollout, the greater the risk of other challenges arising,” he added, including the emergence of more troubling variants of the coronavirus.
To date, he and others said, vaccine deliveries to Africa have been not only late and too little, but also unpredictable. Many shipments have arrived with little notice, hampering the ability of health systems to deliver them, and with doses that are about to expire.
Richard Mihigo, coordinator of the WHO vaccination program in Africa, said the agency had analyzed vaccine shipments and found that the average shelf life of doses reaching Africa was two to three months. That wasn’t long enough for health systems to get the doses to people who needed them, many of whom lived far from health facilities, he said.
“Usually the news about donations comes at short notice, within a few days,” said Dr. mihigo. “Countries don’t have time to prepare. To change this paradigm, we need a little more predictability about doses, how many doses, when they’re coming.”
The glut of expired doses has also contributed to vaccine hesitancy in parts of Africa, said Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director-general of the National Institute of Biomedical Research in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“People consider a short shelf life, such as three months, to be synonymous with poor quality,” he said.