Covid-19: Africa vaccine rollout off to a slow start

By Peter Mwai
BBC Reality Check

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Africa has now recorded over 100,000 Covid-19 deaths and there is growing concern over delays in rolling out vaccination programmes.

Some countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe have begun vaccination programmes, but many others will have to wait until later in the year for stocks to arrive.

The first doses distributed under the Covax international vaccine-sharing programme have now arrived in Ghana.

How are African countries getting vaccines?

There has been global competition to get hold of vaccines, and African countries have generally not been as successful as richer countries in securing supplies.

"It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk groups in rich countries are made safe," says Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa.

France President Emmanuel Macron has proposed that rich countries in Europe and the US share their vaccines with Africa.

He says he wants some doses made available quickly for African countries.

The ones which have so far got vaccines have largely done so through direct purchases from manufacturers, or as donations from countries such as China, Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

African countries have been hoping to get vaccines through international and regional schemes.

The principal one is the global Covax initiative, in which countries pool their resources to support the development of effective vaccines with a view to ensuring that everyone gets a fair supply.

The WHO says it will initially deliver 90 million vaccine doses to African countries, enough to cover 3% of the continent's population.

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This will immunise those most in need of protection, including healthcare workers and other vulnerable groups.

The final Covax target is to provide up to 600 million doses to Africa, enough to vaccinate at least 20% of the population by the end of 2021.

But John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says the vaccines provided "will not get the pandemic out" of the continent.

He says African countries will eventually need to vaccinate at least 60% of their populations, with his target for this year being 35%.

There's also an African Union plan to pool supply arrangements on behalf of all 55 countries in the continent.

Africa's leading mobile network provider, MTN, has made a donation of $25m (£17.8m) to this plan to secure about seven million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine for the continent's health workers.

The CDC says an initial one million doses acquired through the MTN arrangement will be shipped to about 20 African countries by the end of February.

It's not known yet which countries will receive these.

Which African countries are already vaccinating?

Some countries started their programmes, but most have not.

Currently, in North Africa, these are the countries vaccinating (and the vaccines being used):

  • Morocco (AstraZeneca and Sinopharm)
  • Algeria (Sputnik V)
  • Egypt (Sinopharm)

In sub-Saharan Africa, the countries vaccinating are:

  • South Africa (Johnson & Johnson)
  • Seychelles (Sinopharm and AstraZeneca)
  • Rwanda (reportedly using Pfizer and Moderna)
  • Mauritius (AstraZeneca)
  • Zimbabwe (Sinopharm)
  • Senegal (Sinopharm)

Equatorial Guinea has received a batch of Sinopharm vaccine, but is yet to begin giving it to the general public.

Guinea has administered only 60 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine - on an experimental basis.

Ghana has received 600,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine through the Covax initiative, and expects to start administering them in March.

What's happened to vaccinations in South Africa?

South Africa, the worst affected country on the continent, delayed an initial vaccination plan using the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns about its efficacy against a new variant of coronavirus.

It started vaccinating on 17 February after receiving 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is administered as a single dose and has been shown to be effective against the variant.

President Cyril Ramaphosa says the country has secured a total of nine million doses of this vaccine.

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image captionSouth African President Ramaphosa gets a Covid vaccine

Pfizer has also committed to supply 20 million vaccine doses, with deliveries expected by the end of March.

South Africa has offered the one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine it ordered from the Indian supplier to the African Union, to distribute to other countries which might be interested in using it.

This piece was originally published on 20 February 2021, but is updated regularly to include the latest information.