Africa must learn lessons from failure to distribute Covid-19 vaccines, report finds

Low coronavirus vaccination rates across Africa are a result of “consequential failures” in the distribution of jabs, rather than limited access, a report has warned. 

So far, the rollout of Covid-19 shots worldwide has been widely imbalanced. Just 15 per cent of people across Africa have received two shots, compared to a global average of 56 per cent. 

According to a paper published by the Tony Blair Institute of Global Change on Thursday, governments and donors must address six major issues to improve vaccination drives on the continent, both for Covid-19 and diseases including yellow fever and measles.

“The delivery of vaccines is one of the biggest challenges to get past this pandemic,” Liya Temeselwe Mamo, co-author of the report, told The Telegraph. “And it is preventing the continent from moving on to address future diseases and being able to deliver on other health priorities.”

Vaccination campaigns have been widespread in Africa for decades, with a mix of public and donor-led programmes to inoculate against a wide-range of diseases. 

Medical staff across the continent regularly administer measles and yellow fever jabs to millions of children, while a new vaccine is being trialled to protect against Ebola.

However the study, which interviewed a dozen key different partners in Africa’s Covid vaccine delivery, found that adjusting the logistical and financial approach could improve both the distribution mechanisms, and vaccination coverage. 

In particular, Covid-19 showed that donors must allocate funds to “recurrent costs” of vaccine administration rather than one-time purchases, it said. Humanitarian partners are often target-led and will therefore finance the purchase of a vehicle but will not pay for fuel costs, for example.

This is especially important as Africa is one of the most expensive regions in the world to deliver vaccines at an average of $15.17 per person, with the figure shooting up to $22 in South Sudan and other countries with fragile governments and widespread security issues.

 Vaccination ‘no longer a supply issue’

The report added that donor countries need to increase funding to help African governments deliver vaccines, rather than only purchasing the life-saving technologies. 

Airfinity, a global health analytics firm, estimated in January that there were 241 million Covid-19 vaccines that would expire in Africa if not used by March 2022.

“Even after successful booster rollouts there are surplus doses available that risk going to waste if not shared very soon,” said Rasmus Bech Hansen, Airfinity’s co-founder and CEO. 

This confirms the report’s findings that vaccination in Africa is “no longer a supply issue”. 

In fact, African countries like Nigeria and Malawi have had to destroy thousands of donated Covid-19 vaccines since the epidemic began, due to distribution issues. 

The study also recommends that African governments prioritise investments in health workers, or use non-health workers to help with vaccination efforts. The latest data suggests that there are 2.3 health-care workers for every 1,000 people in Africa versus 24.8 for every 1,000 people in the Americas.

To counter Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy, the study said governments should integrate Covid-19 inoculation programmes into vaccination drives for other diseases. Jabs should also be administered at other “points of care”, like antenatal care visits and early childhood care.  

To counter major logistical issues, African countries should roll out a narrower range of vaccines as each vaccine has its own distribution requirements. Bespoke vaccine-storage technology to transport vaccines from urban centres to vaccine outposts should also be used.  

And, in the worst-case scenario, alternative vaccine-carrier methods like nasal spray vaccines or oral thin-film technology will enable non-health-workers to deliver vaccines outside a clinic or hospital.

The report also identified that strong institutions are key for Africa to successfully deliver vaccines for a wide range of diseases.

“With strong institutions on the ground a lot of these problems can be solved,” said Ms Mamo.

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