The head of Africa’s disease-control body has warned that India’s temporary hold on major exports of AstraZeneca’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine will undermine the continent’s inoculation plans and could have a “catastrophic” impact if extended.
The Serum Institute of India (SII) recently announced that as many as 90 million doses of the shot destined for the COVAX initiative worldwide will be delayed through the end of April as India’s government grapples with a spike in infections among the country’s 1.4 billion people. Reports this week said India’s move is aimed at making sure it could meet local demand.
The hold “will definitely impact our ability to continuously vaccinate people”, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told a news conference in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on Thursday.
“If the delay continues, I hope it’s a delay and not a ban, that would be catastrophic for meeting our vaccinations schedule,” Nkengasong said
COVAX is a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and two international groups – the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) – which aims to send vaccines to developing countries.
The African Union had planned to vaccinate 30-35 percent of the continent’s population by the end of the year, Nkengasong said. The AU’s target primarily relies on supplies from COVAX, through which 64 countries including many in Africa are supposed to get doses from the SII.
Ghana has so far received 600,000 of the 2.4 million AstraZeneca shots it was due to get through COVAX by the end of May. It has been told that more shots will only arrive in June, Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, head of the vaccine rollout, told the Reuters news agency.
“To be so reliant on one manufacturer is a massive concern,” a United Nations health official involved in the rollout in Africa told Reuters.
J&J vaccine hopes
Nkengasong, however, expressed optimism that a deal announced on Monday for African countries to acquire the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine remains “an historic moment and a game-changer”.
The agreement with the AU African Vaccine Acquisition Trust calls for 220 million doses to be delivered by the third quarter of this year, with an option to acquire an additional 180 million doses through 2022.
If those 400 million people receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it would represent more than half the continent’s goal of 750 million, Nkengasong said.
According to Africa CDC data, countries in the continent have so far confirmed more than 4.2 million coronavirus cases and some 112,000 related deaths.