Africa lags behind in vaccination targets
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Although Covid-19 cases throughout Africa are declining, albeit at a slower rate because of the infectious Delta variant, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official has warned that the continent may not reach its vaccination targets.
Only nine African countries, including South Africa, Morocco and Tunisia, have reached the global target set in May by the World Health Assembly. But, the continent’s vaccination goal for 10% of the most vulnerable population to receive the jab by the end of September, may not happen, said Dr Thierno Balde, the deputy incident manager for the World Health Organization Africa based in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo.
Speaking via Zoom, Balde said, however, the consequences for the continent may be been less important than elsewhere since Africa has a smaller fraction of deaths than in Europe, America and Asia. Globally, the virus has affected some 219 million people with 4.5 million deaths. In South Africa over 84 300 people have died out of 2.84 million cases since March 2020 when the pandemic broke in the country. The statistics for Africa show more than seven million cases with 180 000 deaths.
Since 2019, the death toll throughout the world has risen. In a number of countries it runs in the tens of thousands. To date, the United States has reported 40.,8 million cases and 658 000 deaths; India 33.2 million and 442 000 deaths; and Brazil 21 million cases and 585 000 deaths.
But Africa has not been as heavily hit, a factor which, according to Balde, may have been a blessing since health systems on the continent may be found wanting, as it has not come under the same pressure as in other parts of the world.
According to Balde, public health issues have always been accompanied by political dimensions. But from an African perspective, governments have performed admirably in managing the pandemic, encouraging sanitation and wearing of masks, and focusing on vaccination.
Given the low rate of vaccination in Africa, Balde says additional waves cannot be ruled out. Hence, the need for grabbing the window of opportunity to ensure people are not distracted by any noise (related to the origins of the virus) but be better prepared for what may come.
“We have seen the major consequences of this pandemic, and we are not yet totally out of the woods.”
This was more pressing given the low number of people throughout Africa who have taken the vaccine. “We are monitoring the situation, and we have taken appropriate actions and for the moment.”
Balde said he was satisfied that African leaders have focused on the pandemic and not getting caught up in the politics around it, since this meant it was about saving lives. “It's important to find solutions, Africa has adopted the solution-based focus.”
In a statement during the Opening Session of the 13th BRICS Summit hosted virtually by India on Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa, said the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on human life, livelihoods, economies and communities around the world.
“As the BRICS countries, we must continue to safeguard people’s lives and livelihoods, support global economic recovery and enhance the resilience of all our public systems. We must ensure equal access to Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics,” he said.
Highly-rated KwaZulu-Natal epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist Professor Salim Abdool Karim told The Sunday Independent while understanding the origins of the virus matters, it’s more important to urgently find solutions “because there’s more coming”.
Abdool Karim said a journal article by scientist Shane Crotty on hybrid immunity with Covid-19 vaccines left him upbeat. It said hybrid vigour takes place when different plant lines are bred so the hybrid becomes a stronger plant. Something similar happens when natural immunity is combined with vaccine-generated immunity, resulting in 25 to 100 times higher antibody responses, driven by memory B cells and CD4+ T cells and broader cross-protection from variants.
“If you keep worrying about all the problems that went on behind, you won’t make progress. You have to look forward, you have to be forward or solution orientated, you have to find the best way forward and try to make the best of a bad situation,” he said.
He said there was huge devastation caused by the pandemic particularly in Italy before it arrived in South Africa. But on November 9, 2020 everything changed when Pfizer, working with BioNTech, released its first results which showed that its vaccine candidate were found to be more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 in participants without evidence of prior Sars-CoV-2 infection.
“When I was asked how long it’s going to take to get a vaccine, I said it takes years. After all, I’ve devoted 32 years to working on an HIV vaccine, we don’t have one yet,” he said.
But Abdool Karim revealed that he was shocked when they were able to swiftly produce a vaccine. The reason why a vaccine arrived rapidly is that the work on it began more than 10 years ago, in fact it started, about 18 years ago, he said.
“When the original Sars outbreak occurred a team started working on it. One in particular, a friend of ours called Barney Graham did the sequencing and built a vaccine for the original Sars but there was no use for the vaccine because it never came back. So he made the vaccine, but he had no use for it. When the Sars-2 came along, he already had the vaccine from the original. He modified it for Covid-19 and his sequence is in the vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. So a vaccine came quickly with good reason.”
But Abdool Karim warned that the next set of variants are now evolving even in midst of more vaccinated people. “If I was a betting man, I would bet there are more variants. This virus is not done with us. We might be done with the virus, but it’s not done with us.”