Biggest vaccine rollout in history

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Africa is prepping itself for its largest vaccination drive in history – a multi-billion dollar effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The World Health Organisation estimates the cost of rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine to priority populations in African at around US$ 5.7 billion. Up to another 20 percent of this figure will be needed for related materials, distribution and training of health professionals.

The costing is based on an estimated vaccine price of US$10,55 per dose for a two-dose regimen.

In preparation for vaccine acquisition and rollout, all African members of WHO are using the Vaccine Readiness Assessment Tool with help from UNICEF. The tool covers planning and co-ordination, resources and funding, vaccine regulations, service delivery, training and supervision, monitoring and evaluation, logistics, vaccine safety and surveillance, and communications and community engagement.

However, data from use of the assessment tool shows 33 percent readiness for a vaccine rollout against a benchmark of 80 percent.

WHO director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti this week said, “The largest immunisation drive in Africa’s history is right around the corner, and African governments must urgently ramp up readiness. Planning and preparation will make or break this unprecedented endeavour, and we need active leadership and engagement from the highest levels of government with solid, comprehensive national coordination plans and systems put in place.”

WHO is working with Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation and other partners to try and ensure equitable access to vaccines in Africa through the COVAX facility. The initial target is to secure vaccines for at least 20 percent of Africa’s population.

Data from the UN agency show that only 49 percent of African countries have identified the priority populations for vaccination and have plans in place to reach them, and 44 percent have co-ordination structures in place. Just 24 percent have an adequate plan for resources and funding; 17 percent have data collection and monitoring tools ready; and 12 percent have plans to communicate with communities to build trust and drive vaccine acceptance.

“Developing a safe and effective vaccine is just the first step in a successful rollout,” Dr Moeti said at a virtual conference of health experts.  “If communities are not on board and convinced that a vaccine will protect their health, we will make little headway.  It’s critical that countries reach out to communities and hear their concerns and give them a voice in the process.” 

In Namibia, Health and Social Services Minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula said the government had developed a costed programme for a vaccine rollout.

“We are willing to enter into bilateral agreements with suppliers as well as work with other regional and continental bodies including the Southern African Development Community and African Union in accessing the vaccine and implementing combative measures,” Dr Shangula said.

In South Africa, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson became the first company to apply for COVID-19 vaccine registration in the country.

Its proposed vaccine is one of at least four being tried out in the country, along with those developed by Novavax, AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

Health Products Regulatory Authority CEO Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela said this week, “We received one application. This was received on last week from Johnson & Johnson and we’ve started the review process. The regulator would review the safety and efficacy of each vaccine on a case-by-case basis and will only grant approval for public use once it has met acceptable standards of quality, safety and efficacy.”

 

Reporting by Jeff Kapembwa in Lusaka & Tiri Masawi in Windhoek

 

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Second Wave: Africa in good stead

A new report by the African Development Bank (AfDB) says the continent is better equipped to deal with the second wave of COVID-19 than it was for the first at the start of the year.

Quoting Dr John Nkengasong, the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the report says more, however, can be done to better protect citizens.

“The continent is much more prepared to deal with the second wave than we were 11 months ago,” Dr Nkengasong says.

More than 2,3 million people in Africa have contracted COVID-19, and around 54,500 have died from the disease. 

In the AfDB report, the president of the West African Health Federation, Dr Clare Omatseye, emphasised the need for strategic partnerships between the public and private sectors to deal with the pandemic effectively.

Raymond Gilpin, chief economist and head of strategy, analysis and research at the United Nations Development Programme is quoted in the report saying: “Though it has been challenging, COVID-19 has given Africa the opportunity to rethink development paradigms, reimagine the future, reposition the private sector, and reassess the way we utilize technology.

Director of macroeconomic policy, forecasting and research at the African Development Bank, Hanan Morsy, added that there was much reason to be hopeful in the face of the second wave.

And countries across Southern Africa are tightening public health measures for the festive season.

In Malawi, the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and the Ministry of Health issued stern warnings about the dangers of letting down the guard this week.

Taskforce co-chairperson Dr John Phuka said, "Regionally, the cases are rising and we need to be extra careful. Let's avoid parties and unnecessary travels. We are particularly concerned with those coming in for holidays and even if we check at the border, there is a chance that some might get into the country with the virus."

Malawi Health Ministry acting deputy director for health education services, Mavuto Thomas, said a lull in the storm in the first wave had led to public complacency in adherence to protocols such as social distancing, hand washing/sanitization and wearing of face masks.

In Namibia, the country recorded at least 13 COVID-19 deaths and more than 2,000 infections in 15 days.

This prompted President Hage Geingob to this week limit indoor gatherings to 50 and those held outdoors to 100, down from 200.

“Because of the rising cases of COVID-19 in the past few days bars, casino restaurants will now close at 22:00hrs from the previous midnight, owners of shopping malls and host of indoor events must make sure attendees of their premises wear mask and all law enforcement agencies are advise to deploy personnel to ensure adherence,” he added.

In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa this week issued directives to clamp down on public gatherings such as parties, which are being described as “super spreader” events. A curfew from 10pm to 4am has also been instituted.

President Ramaphosa said the increasing number of infections and deaths in South Africa were worrisome and needed the government and the public to be vigilant and robust in dealing with the challenge. 

Regarding legal challenges brought against the government over the latest set of lockdown regulations, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said, “We stand by the recommendations made to the National Coronavirus Command Council, which are well substantiated by evidence.

“We have every intention to oppose these applications as the department, and government’s mandate to protect the lives and health of our people remains paramount. We dare not neglect this responsibility by omitting to take the necessary actions to protect the health care system from being overwhelmed and collapsing, as we’ve seen in other countries.”

 

Reporting by Mpho Tebele in Gaborone, Bright Mpepe in Lilongwe, Tiri Masawi in Windhoek & Colleta Dewa in Johannesburg

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