COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to African nations pick up speed

Full Screen
1 / 4

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The first arrival of COVID-19 vaccines to Kenya is offloaded from a Qatar Airways flight at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, early Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Around 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India arrived at the airport as part of the COVAX facility, according to the Ministry of Health. (AP Photo)

NAIROBI – More African countries received the long-awaited first deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, with Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and Lesotho benefiting from the global COVAX initiative that aims to ensure doses for the world’s low-and middle-income nations.

African and other health officials have been frustrated by the sight of a handful of rich countries rolling out vaccines after snapping up large amounts for themselves.

“We will be known as the continent of COVID” if Africa doesn’t quickly reach its target of vaccinating 60% of its population of 1.3 billion people, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, said last week. The continent last month surpassed 100,000 confirmed deaths.

So far Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Angola, Gambia and Congo also have received their first vaccine doses via COVAX, with several other countries including Mali, Senegal, Malawi and Uganda set to receive them this week.

Rwanda is becoming the first African nation to receive the Pfizer vaccine via COVAX. The vaccine needs storage at ultra-cold temperatures, making rollout complex in hot countries and rural areas, for example.

COVAX has faced delays related to the severely limited global supply of vaccine doses as well as logistical issues.

And COVAX alone will not supply Africa’s 54 countries with the doses needed to reach the 60% population coverage for achieving so-called herd immunity, when enough people are protected through infection or vaccination to make it difficult for a virus to continue to spread.

That's why some countries such as South Africa, the hardest-hit African nation, are also pursuing COVID-19 vaccines via bilateral deals or via the African Union's bulk-purchasing program.