As efforts to find safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 are showing increasing promise, the African continent is “far from ready” to roll out what will be its largest ever immunization drive, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
“The largest immunization drive in Africa’s history is right around the corner, and African governments must urgently ramp up readiness. Planning and preparation will make or break this unprecedented endeavour,” she said.
“We need active leadership and engagement from the highest levels of government with solid, comprehensive national coordination plans and systems put in place,” added Dr. Moeti.
The call came as a new WHO analysis revealed that vaccination programme readiness in Africa is lagging.
Readiness ‘well below’ benchmark
According to the analysis, based on countries’ self-reporting, the African region has an average score of 33 per cent readiness for a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, which is well below the desired benchmark of 80 per cent.
WHO, together with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation and other partners, is working to ensure equitable access to vaccines in Africa through the COVAX facility, the vaccines pillar of the WHO Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. When vaccines are licensed and approved, COVAX will work to secure enough doses to provide protection to an initial 20 per cent of the African population, said WHO.
However, only 49 per cent have identified priority populations for vaccination and have plans in place to reach them, 44 per cent have coordination structures in place, according to WHO analysis. In addition, 24 per cent have adequate plans for resources and funding, 17 per cent have data collection and monitoring tools ready, and only 12 per cent have plans to communicate with communities to build trust and drive demand for immunization.
Vaccine ‘just the first step’
Dr. Moeti, underscored that developing a safe and effective vaccine “is just the first step in a successful rollout”.
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“If communities are not on-board and convinced that a vaccine will protect their health, we will make little headway. It’s critical that countries reach out to communities and hear their concerns and give them a voice in the process,” she added.
WHO has provided its Vaccine Readiness Assessment Tool to all 47 countries in its African Region. The Tool, for use by Ministries of Health, provides a roadmap to plan for COVID-19 vaccine introduction and covers ten key areas, from planning and funding, to training, monitoring and community engagement.
The UN agency and its partners also issued guidance on COVID-19 vaccination planning and deployment for governments, to help them design strategies for the deployment, implementation and monitoring of COVID-19 vaccines and better integrate their strategies and financing to boost efficiency.