WHO: Slow vaccinations in Africa increase chances of new COVID-19 variants
Africa’s chances of limiting the emergence and impact of new COVID-19 variants remain low as the continent continues to grapple with low vaccination numbers, according to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.
Moeti sounded the warning on Thursday at a media briefing on the continent’s COVID-19 situation.
“This year should mark a turning point in Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination drive. With vast swaths of the population still unvaccinated, our chances of limiting the emergence and impact of deadly variants are frighteningly slim,” said Dr. Moeti.
“We have the know-how and the tools and with a concerted push we can certainly tip the balance against the pandemic,” she added.
According to the WHO, more than 85 percent of people in Africa are yet to receive a single dose of COVID-19 vaccines and just around 10 percent of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated.
African countries form the majority of the 90 nations globally that have still not reached the WHO end-2021 target of vaccinating at least 40 percent of their populations.
The continent’s vaccination drive was hampered by the slow arrival of vaccine doses in the first half of last year. The latter half saw more batches arrive, but inoculation numbers remain much lower compared to other regions.
In her briefing, however, Dr Moeti pointed out that while Africa’s fourth pandemic wave is flattening, the continent still needs to continue with pandemic countermeasures.
After a six-week surge, Africa’s fourth pandemic wave driven primarily by the Omicron variant is flattening, marking the shortest-lived surge to date in the continent where cumulative cases have now exceeded 10 million.
As of 11 January, there have been 10.2 million COVID-19 cases in Africa. Weekly cases plateaued in the seven days to 9 January from the week before. Southern Africa, which saw a huge increase in infections during the pandemic wave, recorded a 14% decline in infections over the past week. South Africa, where Omicron was first reported, saw a 9% fall in weekly infections. East and Central Africa regions also experienced a drop. However, North and West Africa are witnessing a rise in cases, with North Africa reporting a 121% increase this past week compared with the previous one.
So far, Africa has reported 10,066,092 COVID-19 infections with 231,445 fatalities, according to data from the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.