2021-09-23 15:31:23 African Experts Welcome Biden Vaccine Pledge, With Caveats

African Experts Welcome Biden Vaccine Pledge, With Caveats

African public health experts applauded President Biden’s plan to increase global coronavirus vaccine donations on Thursday, but warned that his lofty goals would be thwarted without more timely deliveries and greater transparency about when and how many doses are on their way.

Africa, which has the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rate, has suffered not only from a vaccine shortage, but also from delayed and inconsistent deliveries. Although supplies are increasing, with four million doses arriving from Covax, the global vaccine-sharing facility, African countries have received only one-third of the doses pledged for this year, experts said at a World Health Organization virtual briefing.

“The first thing to say is that we appreciate all of the pledged donations from rich countries and those with doses to offer, but we ask for a commitment to deliver on those, and deliver in a timely manner,” said Githinji Gitahi, chief executive of Amref Health Africa, a charity.

Mr. Biden pledged to donate an additional 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine at a summit on Wednesday, nearly doubling the United States’ total committed donations to 1.1 billion doses, more than any other country. However, only 300 million are expected to be shipped this year, leaving poorer countries with the prospect of an ever-increasingly long wait.

Mr. Biden endorsed the goal of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by the end of 2022, but that would necessitate a sevenfold increase in vaccinations in Africa, to about 150 million doses per month, according to Benido Impouma, a program director with the World Health Organization’s Africa program.

“It is in everyone’s interest that this happens as soon as possible,” Dr. Impouma said of the continent’s vaccination campaign. “The longer the vaccine is delayed, the greater the risk of other challenges emerging,” he added, citing the rise of more concerning coronavirus variants.

Vaccine deliveries to Africa, he and others claim, have been not only late and insufficient, but also unpredictable. Many shipments arrived with little notice, impeding health-care systems’ ability to administer them and with doses that were about to expire.

According to Richard Mihigo, coordinator of the World Health Organization’s immunizations program in Africa, the agency analyzed vaccine shipments and discovered that the average shelf life of doses that arrived in Africa was two to three months. He claimed that wasn’t long enough for health-care systems to get the doses to people who needed them, many of whom lived far from health-care facilities.

“Most of the time, the news about donations comes quickly, within a couple of days,” Dr. Mihigo explained. “Countries do not have the luxury of time to prepare. To shift this paradigm, we need a little more predictability in terms of doses, how many doses there will be, and when they will arrive.”

A surplus of soon-to-expire doses has also contributed to vaccine hesitancy in parts of Africa, according to Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director general of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s National Institute for Biomedical Research.

“People believe that a short shelf life, such as three months, is synonymous with poor quality,” he explained.

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African Experts Welcome Biden Vaccine Pledge, With Caveats