The next phase in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is vaccination. Although Africa has not recorded as many cases and deaths in comparison to other parts of the world, it has felt the economic and social impact of the pandemic. An effective vaccination strategy is pivotal in reconnecting Africa to the rest of the world, ensuring a smooth post-pandemic recovery and strengthening dilapidated health systems. 

Why do we need a vaccine?

A vaccine will help curb the spread of the virus and allow countries across the world to return to “normal”. Vaccines enable people develop immunity to a virus by mimicking an infectious agent – viruses, bacteria or other disease causing organisms. This teaches our immune system to rapidly and effectively fight against it.

How many vaccines are currently being developed?

Researchers are currently testing 64 vaccines in clinical trials on humans. 20 have reached the final stages of testing and only 3 have been approved for full use.

How many vaccines are undergoing clinical trials in Africa?

Only three of the 43 vaccines undergoing clinical trials are being tested in Africa (the AstraZeneca, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson candidates). These trials are in just two countries, Kenya and South Africa.

What is COVAX?

COVAX is one of three pillars of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator which was launched last April. Its goal is to catalyse the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, and to ensure fairness and equity in access and availability for every country in the world. The initial aim is to have 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021.

When will the COVID-19 vaccine become available in African countries?

The COVID-19 vaccine should be available for use in Africa in mid-2021. It could take years to secure the requisite doses to immunise 60 per cent of the continent’s 1.3 billion people – which is the threshold for achieving herd immunity.

How many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will be available for Africa?

There is a plan via the COVAX facility for the initial proportional allocation of doses to countries until all countries have enough to cover 20% of their population. This is contingent on sufficient donor support.

What will be the cost of rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine on the African continent?

According to the WHO, it will cost around US$ 5.7 billion to roll out the vaccine to priority populations. This figure excludes the additional 15% – 20% cost for injection materials and the delivery of vaccines. This cost is based on COVAX facility estimates with the average vaccine price at US$ 10.55 per dose and assumes that a two-dose regimen will be required.

Do African countries have the requisite infrastructure and mechanisms for mass vaccination?

According to the WHO’s vaccine readiness assessment, the region has an average score of 33% readiness for a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. This is below the desired benchmark of 80%. Furthermore, readiness data shows that only 49% have identified the priority populations for vaccination. 44% have coordination structures in place and only 24% have adequate plans for resources and funding.

What challenges will Africa encounter in terms of distributing and storing vaccines?

The logistics of vaccine distribution will be daunting for the continent. For instance, the vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNTech must be stored at -70℃ with a shelf life of five days at standard refrigeration temperatures. Most countries on the continent have limited access to stable electricity, which will make storing the vaccines at freezing temperatures an arduous task.

Thanks for reading,

Stephannie