WHO targets vaccinating 36m weekly as omicron sub-variant spreads

If African countries are to reach 70 percent vaccine coverage target for their citizens by mid-year, they need to increase the pace of vaccine rollout by six folds to 36 million, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director, Africa said vaccine uptake on the continent lags the rest of the world with only six million vaccinated weekly, speaking during a briefing on COVID-19 vaccine update.

Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, a virologist with the WHO, in a separate conference said an omicron coronavirus sub-variant known as BA.2 has been detected across Africa, hitting Senegal, Kenya, Malawi, Botswana and South Africa.

Although new cases and deaths are declining except in South Africa, about 11 million COVID-19 cases and 239, 000 have occurred in Africa due to the pandemic.

The continent has received slightly over 587 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

But in January, 96 million doses were shipped to Africa, more than double the monthly delivery to the continent six months ago, Moeti said, suggesting that the world is finally responding to Africa’s calls.

“Currently, we are vaccinating about six million people a week. That number needs to increase exponentially to 36 million a week to put countries on the path to beating the pandemic. We must address our work to include the short shelf life of delivery and operational bottlenecks,” the Africa regional director said.

Read also: WHO decries slow vaccine uptake in Africa despite increased supplies

The body admitted that the rollout of vaccines is massive coordination and logistical undertaking and that many countries have challenges with inadequate resources and delivery capacity.

It, however, said it has joined forces with partners to urgently ramp up capacity to enable countries to improve coordination and speed up vaccinations.

The UNICEF also will support 20 countries with the lowest vaccine uptake.

Gumede-Moeletsi urged countries to beef up their genomic surveillance, sequencing more coronavirus samples to determine the extent of its spread.

“We’re a bit concerned that we may have missed some of this BA.2 in some of the samples that we’ve screened previously,” she said.

The sub-variant as studies show appears to be more infectious than the original omicron strain which was discovered by South Africa and Botswana in November.

Research also shows that getting a mild infection with either of the two strains may not give an immune response sufficient to protect against another omicron infection. Early data from BA.2 infections in Denmark and the U.K. indicate that the strain doesn’t yield more severe disease.

BA.2 is spreading rapidly in South Africa and has been found in seven of the country’s nine provinces, Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions and advises the government on the pandemic, said in a presentation last week. It has the potential to cause a second surge of infections in the current wave, he said.

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