Funding, climate and fear are jeopardizing African COVID vaccine plans



Getting the vaccine into “priority” population sectors costs $ 5.7 billion, plus 15% -20% for delivery, syringes and other injection equipment, WHO estimates Africa region.

BRAZZAVILLE – The struggle to get the COVID vaccine into the world’s population has often been likened to a race – in which case Africa is held back by a range of financial, technical and cultural problems.

Predictably, this funding is hurdle No. 1 for Africa, home to some of the world’s poorest countries.

The Africa Director of the World Health Organization (WHO), Matshidiso Moeti, set a goal last week to vaccinate 3% of Africans by March 2021 and 20% by the end of next year.

Getting the vaccine into “priority” population sectors costs $ 5.7 billion, plus 15% -20% for delivery, syringes and other injection equipment, WHO estimates Africa region.

But of the 47 countries in the region, “only about a quarter have adequate plans” for resources and funding, it said.

Lower or middle income African countries can seek help from COVAX, an international coalition negotiating with Big Pharma about lower vaccine prices.

So far, the continent – home to endemic diseases, from malaria to HIV – has been relatively spared by COVID-19.

It has recorded about 2.2 million cases, of which 52,000 were fatal, in a population of 1.25 billion.

South Africa, which is the worst affected country with 800,000 cases, hopes to get its first vaccines through COVAX “by the middle of next year,” said eminent epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim, who also advises the government.

“Even if we could focus on vaccinating about 30-40% of the population, or at least the adult population, that would help us a lot in controlling the transmission of the virus,” said Shabir Madhi, a professor. at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

HOT CLIMATE, COLD PROBLEM

So far, three vaccines, each with significant differences, have been heralded by their makers as a success after Phase III trials.

The first, Pfizer / BioNTech, must be kept refrigerated to -70 degrees Celsius – a task that is costly and arduous even for rich countries, but especially in Africa.

The second, Moderna, can be stored for a long time at -20 C, which is still a major challenge in warm, poor countries.

The third, made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, can be stored, transported and handled under normal refrigerated conditions between two and eight degrees Celsius for a minimum of six months.

That’s a plus and so, from Africa’s point of view, is the cost.

AstraZeneca says it will be sold at a cost of $ 2.50, or about $ 3, which is much cheaper than its rivals.

The downside is that the research results give this vaccine 70% effectiveness, compared to more than 90% for the other two.

For Madhi, the lower effectiveness is not an obstacle.

“From a public health point of view, we would save many more lives by introducing a vaccine with 60% or 70% efficacy that can be rolled out to the mass level for a significant percentage of the population, than a vaccine with 90% efficacy, that is in no way unaffordable in terms of vaccination of 50% of the population, ”he said.

In a group of volunteers who received a first half dose followed by a full dose of this third vaccine, the effectiveness jumped to 90% – a finding that is being studied further.

VACCINE HESITATION

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa with a population of about 200 million, has prioritized vaccinating about 44 million people who are considered the most vulnerable, including the elderly and those with underlying conditions.

“We are in talks with all the countries and companies, including the US, China and Pfizer, that are developing the vaccines,” said Shuaib Faisal, NPHCDA’s head of health authority.

“About 44 million Nigerians – made up of the most vulnerable, the elderly and those with underlined conditions – will be the first to be attacked when the vaccines are available,” Faisal said.

Nigerian scientists are also working to develop local vaccines “that will be cheaper and more suitable for our environment,” he said.

Some African countries are ambivalent about the vaccine, aware of skepticism or fear in their public.

Madagascar is one of them.

“We have not yet taken a position on the vaccine,” said government spokeswoman Lalatiana Rakotondrazafy Andriatongarivo late last month.

In South Africa, about a third of the population has vaccine reserves, according to Karim.

“If communities are not associated and convinced that the vaccine will protect their health, we will make little progress,” warned WHO’s Moeti.

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