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Africa facing challenge to take in late-arriving COVID-19 vaccines: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A woman is vaccinated against COVID-19 at the Hillbrow Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa, on December 6. (Photo by AP)

With millions of COVID-19 vaccines expected to finally arrive in Africa in the coming weeks, experts say inoculation campaigns in some African countries face serious challenges amid shortages of funds, medical staff and equipment.

Health experts believe that successful inoculation campaigns in the world’s worst-hit continent are important to prevent viral mutations and to end the pandemic globally.

Only 7.5% of Africa’s 1.3 billion population is fully vaccinated.

Vaccine inequity has played a major role in the low vaccination rates in the African countries, but experts said shortages of funds, medical staff and equipment, as well as vaccine hesitancy, were already hindering inoculation efforts in some parts of the continent.

Experts also warn that the expected rise in vaccine deliveries could expose those weaknesses further.

Data from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, a UK-based policy think-tank, showed that nearly 40% of vaccines that have arrived so far on the continent have not been used.

The institute noted that the rate of vaccine use will have to increase four-fold to keep up with expected supply in coming months.

"We are all, like you, very concerned that countries are not picking up the vaccines. The uptake is not as we would have loved to see," head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention John Nkengasong was quoted as saying.

Leftover vaccines

African nations scrambled to prepare their health systems earlier this year as global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX started delivering jabs in small quantities, months after wealthy Western countries began mass inoculations.

Cash-strapped countries were short of cotton wool, fridges, face masks and trucks.

Some countries desperate for vaccines, including South Sudan and Congo, had to send some back as they could not distribute them in time.

Namibia also announced that it had to destroy thousands of outdated vaccines.

Ethiopia is also worried that doses might expire before they are used due to low demand amid vaccine hesitancy.

"Currently, developed countries ... have satisfied their vaccine needs. As a result, they are pushing leftover vaccines ... to developing countries. However, the golden period to absorb these vaccines has already passed," Muluken Yohannes, a senior adviser to Ethiopia's health ministry, said.

Mistrust of Western drug companies and their own governments is reportedly one of the reasons behind community skepticism.

The concerns have particularly mounted in the African continent after the new COVID-19 variant Omicron emerged in South Africa last month, sending shock waves across the world.

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