THE third wave of COVID-19 infections could potentially be devastating for Africa at a time when the continent is experiencing a severe shortage of vaccines, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.
This came at a time when Zimbabwe has spurned the Afreximbank facility for African countries to acquire the American Johnson & Johnson vaccine, saying it has inadequate storage facilities.
The country has opted to embrace Chinese-made Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, and the Indian Covaxin, but has been affected by stock-outs in most key vaccination centres.
Yesterday, Zimbabwe also embraced the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine after Health deputy minister John Mangwiro received 25 000 doses at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport that were bought by diamond mining company Alrosa Zimbabwe.
While the American Johnson & Johnson vaccine was rejected because the country said it had inadequate storage facilities, Mangwiro yesterday claimed there were adequate storage facilities for the Sputnik V vaccine, and also assured the nation of its efficacy.
“This vaccine has been tested in Russia and is working in other countries. This is the first batch of the 50 000 doses. It will be distributed as required and we have the storage facilities,”
Alrosa Zimbabwe deputy chief executive officer Vladimir Marchenko said the shipment was a clear desire by Russia through Alrosa to fight the pandemic.
The country aims to inoculate 60% of its population (about 10 million people) to prevent the coronavirus that has claimed the lives of 1 611 people to date, with daily infection rates showing an upward trend.
By yesterday morning, 689 397 people had received their first jab, while only 389 412 had received their second jab, which is way below the targeted 10 million.
Sputnik V was developed by the Gamaleya National Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia, becoming the first COVID-19 vaccine to be authorised.
Along with Russia, 67 countries have approved the vaccine, among them India. It is a two-part adenovirus viral vector vaccine with an efficacy rate of 91,6%.
WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti said:
“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Our priority is clear — it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19.”
She said the infection rates had been trending upwards in 14 African countries in the past week alone, with eight of them having witnessed an abrupt rise of over 30% in cases.
WHO said its main concern was that vaccine shipments to African nations had ground to a halt.
“While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups,”
She said only 50 million doses had been received in Africa, of which 31 million of them had been administered in 50 countries with a combined population of more than a billion.
Africa also has inefficient health systems in most countries, and it has registered almost five million COVID-19 cases and more than 130 000 deaths.
Of the 23 countries surveyed, the majority had less than one intensive care unit bed per 100 000 populations and only one-third had mechanical ventilators.
Local medical analysts confirmed that the country was in dire straits due to the new COVID-19 variants, including the Indian variant recently detected in Kwekwe, which were gaining momentum.
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa said:
“It’s unfortunate that we only vaccinated around 600 000 people and we ran short of the vaccines.”
Citizen Health Watch board trustee Fungisai Dube said:
“Millions of people are still exposed to the virus. Thousands have been turned away from health centres because of shortages of vaccines.”
COVID-19 national taskforce chief co-ordinator Agnes Mahomva recently confirmed the stock-outs, adding that government was in the process of redistributing vaccines from areas with an oversupply.
Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga also said the country would procure 500 000 more doses, but did not indicate exactly when and from where.