Africa CDC director Dr John Nkengasong at a news conference at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. File image.
Africa CDC director Dr John Nkengasong at a news conference at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. File image.
Image: REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Africa is not winning its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic as a third wave sweeps the continent and countries struggle to access enough vaccines for their populations, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) director Dr John Nkengasong says.

The Covax programme co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) for fair distribution of vaccines is planning a shake-up as it has been shunned by rich countries and failed to meet the needs of the poorest, internal documents seen by Reuters show.

Nkengasong said he was more worried about getting vaccines in time, regardless of where the doses came from.

“The third wave has come with a severity that most countries were not prepared for. So the third wave is extremely brutal,” Nkengasong said during a weekly online briefing.

“Let me put it bluntly: we are not winning in Africa this battle against the virus. So it does not really matter to me whether the vaccines are from Covax or anywhere. All we need is rapid access to vaccines.”

Nkengasong said at least 20 countries are in the middle of the third wave, with Zambia, Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo among those whose health facilities are being overwhelmed.

Africa’s third wave is spreading faster and hitting the continent harder, the WHO’s Africa head Dr Matshidiso Moeti said at a later briefing on Thursday.

“The latest surge threatens to be Africa’s worst yet,” she said.

Cases are outpacing vaccinations, Moeti said, and the continent desperately needed Covid-19 drugs. “We need a sprint, not a saunter, to rapidly protect those facing the biggest risks.”

The Covax programme’s initial lofty ambitions to act as a clearing house for the world’s vaccines, collecting from manufacturers in the most developed countries and quickly distributing to those in the most urgent need, have fallen flat.

About 1.12% of people have been fully vaccinated on the continent, which has recorded 5.2-million infections, Nkengasong said.

Globally, about 2.7-billion doses have been administered, of which just under 1.5% have been administered in Africa, according to the WHO.

More than half of poorer countries receiving doses via Covax do not have enough supplies to continue, an official from the WHO said.

Moeti urged countries not to restrict Africans from travelling based on their vaccination status alone. She said only four of the eight vaccines listed by the  WHO for emergency use are recognised by the European Medicines Agency for the passport system.

“Let’s not add injury to injustice,” Moeti said in a statement later. “Africans must not face more restrictions because they are unable to access vaccines that are only available elsewhere.”