Only 1.5 percent of people in Africa have been vaccinated against COVID-19 amid lack of vaccines and surging Delta variant, laments WHO head

The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday lamented that only 1.5 percent people in Africa have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus because of a lack of vaccines, even as deaths skyrocketed in the past four weeks amid the surging, more transmissible Delta variant.

“On average, in five of WHO’s six regions, infections have increased by 80%, or nearly doubled, over the past four weeks. In Africa, deaths have increased by 80% over the same period. Much of this increase is being driven by the highly-transmissible Delta variant, which has now been detected in at least 132 countries,” the WHO chief said at his regular press briefing in Geneva.

Last week, almost 4 million infections were reported to WHO last week, and on current trends, it is expected that the total number of cases would pass 200 million within the next two weeks.

The answer, he said, is to get as many people vaccinated as possible while also observing public health measures the organization has been recommending for over a year.

Yet, while the WHO’s goal remains to support every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September, at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year, less than 2% of all doses administered globally have been in Africa.

Highlighting vaccine disparity among countries, Dr. Tedros said “so far, just over half of countries have fully vaccinated 10% of their population, less than a quarter of countries have vaccinated 40%, and only 3 countries have vaccinated 70%.”

“Almost a year ago, WHO began to express concern about the threat of ‘vaccine nationalism’; In a press conference in November, we warned of the risk that the world’s poor would be “trampled in the stampede for vaccines”; And at WHO’s Executive Board meeting in January this year, we said the world was on the verge of a “catastrophic moral failure”,” the WHO chief said. “And yet the global distribution of vaccines remains unjust. All regions are at risk, but none more so than Africa. On current trends, nearly 70% of African countries will not reach the 10% vaccination target by the end of September. Around 3.5 million to 4 million doses are administered weekly on the continent, but to meet the September target this must rise to 21 million doses at the very least each week. Many African countries have prepared well to roll out vaccines, but the vaccines have not arrived.”

Dr. Tedros said while WHO has warned that the COVID-19 virus has been changing since it was first reported, and it continues to change, “so far, four variants of concern have emerged, and there will be more as long as the virus continues to spread.”

Warning that “hard-won gains are in jeopardy or being lost, and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed,” Dr. Tedros blamed the rise in COVID-19 cases on “increased social mixing and mobility, the inconsistent use of public health and social measures, and inequitable vaccine use.”

He said the increased number of infections is creating a shortage of treatments such as life-saving oxygen with twenty-nine countries having high and rising oxygen needs while many countries are having inadequate supplies of basic equipment to protect frontline health workers.

“WHO is supporting countries with supplies of oxygen, with guidance to help countries better detect variants, and we continue to work daily with our global networks of experts to understand why the Delta variant spreads so readily,” he said.

Dr. Tedros announced that in response to the Delta surge, the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator on Friday launched the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response, or RADAR, issuing an urgent call for 7.7 billion U.S. dollars for tests, treatments and vaccines. 

“In parallel, we will need additional financing this year for COVAX to exercise its options to purchase vaccines for 2022,” he said. “This investment is a tiny portion of the amount governments are spending to deal with COVID-19.The question is not whether the world can afford to make these investments; it’s whether it can afford not to.”

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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