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Vaccine scarcity: WHO hunts for surplus Covid-19 doses to fix shortages in Africa

Surplus doses of Covid-19 vaccines in countries with more than enough has become the target of the World Health Organisation (WHO) strive to fix shortages arising as fallout of India’s suspension of vaccine exports to Africa and other lower-middle income countries.

Access to supplies is now the biggest challenge currently facing the global facility for equitable vaccine distribution, COVAX , even though financing for health is largely limited in countries under focus, Matshidiso Moeti, regional director, Africa for WHO said on Thursday at an online press briefing with the World Economic Forum.

The body is now looking to diversify its stock of vaccines away from more cost effective AstraZeneca blocked by the Serum Institute of India and has started engaging other vaccine manufacturers including Johnson and Johnson and Moderna for bailout.

“Our challenge is accessing doses of vaccines, not financing because there have been offers of additional financing for COVAX facility and the huge attempt in the work that the African Union has been doing with the Afreximbank,” Moeti said.

The cards have been stacked against Africa in the aspect of vaccination due the lack of financing and capacity for manufacturing.

Most African countries have financial plans in place to cover the first 3 percent of their populations, but the financial plans seem inadequate for the larger, more geographically spread next phases. The costing plans also miss crucial expenditures such as hiring vaccinators, administration, cold-chain storage, logistics and transport for vaccines to reach widely dispersed populations.

The continent was expecting 66 million doses through COVAX from February to May, but only 18.2 million doses have been received so far. Less than 1 percent of the population has received a single dose in 14 African countries while vaccination has not started in four countries.

Nigeria Africa’s most populous nation, for instance has vaccinated just close to two million people, less than one percent of its population.

António Guterres, United Nations secretary-general in a tweet on Tuesday said less than 2 percent of 1.4 billion doses administered around the world have reached Africa, advocating for equitable and sustainable vaccine roll-out as the quickest path towards a fast, and fair recovery for all.

Canada (153.9 million doses), the U.K. (196.9 million), France (113.1 million), Germany (145 million), US (455 million) and Japan (151.4 million) top the list of countries with enough vaccine doses reserved to cover their populations several times over, as of December 2020, a Bloomberg review shows.

The European Union pre-bought 200 million doses for its about 450 million people.

If WHO is able to convince some of them to free up these excess supplies, Africa could get some millions to support itself.

Already, the US has pledged to donate 80 million doses of Pfizer vaccines.

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