Ever since the world received news of a potentially effective COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech in November 2020, there has been a global effort to procure fair distribution across developed and developing countries.
The Covax initiative, a WHO-led project backed by the United Nations, was set up to pool procurement resources and secure equitable distribution of covid-19 vaccines in developing countries.
With more than 185 countries on board, the initiative faces a major challenge of being severely underfunded while combating other developed countries hoarding vaccines. As at December 2020, rich nations (14% of the world’s population) had bought 53% of all the most promising COVID-19 vaccines.
Africa’s State of Preparedness
The World Health Organization warns that Africa is not yet ready for what will be the largest-ever immunization drive. This is based on their Vaccine Readiness Assessment Tool that focuses on resources and funding, training and supervision, planning and coordination, service delivery, vaccine logistics, monitoring and evaluation, surveillance and communication, vaccine safety, vaccine regulations and community engagement.
The African region has an average score of 33% readiness for a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, which is well below the desired benchmark of 80%.
It is expected that widespread campaigns to distribute the vaccine in Africa will begin in the second quarter of the year due to supply chain challenges and lack of preparedness. However, some countries have already started placing orders and administering the vaccine. Kenya expects 24 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to start arriving in the second week of February 2021.
Key Supply Chain Challenges
Some of the major challenges around the preparation and procurement of COVID-19 vaccines in African countries include;
- Large-scale manufacturing to meet high demands.
- Accessibility to financial resources needed to procure and distribute the vaccines rapidly.
- Lack of cold chain infrastructures that can optimally handle this vaccine which needs to be stored and transported at extremely low temperatures (about -70°C).
This is an indication that significant investments are required in order to successfully rollout the vaccines especially to communities living in remote areas. Innovative solutions such as MECOTEC’s hybrid container for ultra-cold transport and storage for COVID-19 vaccines may address some of the distribution challenges.
Adequate financial resources, community outreach programs and monitoring and evaluation tools are the key ingredients in administering the vaccine within a reasonable timeframe. According to WHO, getting the COVID-19 vaccine to priority populations costs about $5.7 billion, including an additional 15-20% cost for training, logistics, materials and community mobilization.
In October 2020, The World Bank approved $12 Billion to finance immunization programs in developing countries. African governments must step up and strengthen their planning and preparation strategies in order to facilitate effective distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. Reason being, if distribution is not well done, people may need more than one vaccine.
So, where do Africans stand on the vaccination timelines?
It is expected that a significant population of the continent will have been vaccinated by the first quarter of 2022. To get there, we must remember the importance of collaboration while mobilizing resources for effective distribution of the vaccine.
For more information on how government agencies, donor institutions, financiers and key stakeholders in healthcare can engage, connect and mobilize resources for health security, visit our AHSA platform.