THE risk of a new wave of infections in Africa remains high, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned after Africa-bound Covid-19 vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India were delayed for the foreseeable future, and new variants making inroads.
The organisation said delays and shortages of vaccine supplies were driving African countries to slip further behind the rest of the world in the vaccine roll-out.
The continent now accounts for only 1% of the vaccines administered worldwide, down from 2% a few weeks ago.
New variants also place Africa at risk of a third wave, said WHO.
The African bureau of the UN agency said the continent had to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of vaccine rollouts.
The B.1.617 variant, first found in India, has been reported in at least one African country.
The B1.351 strain, first found in South Africa last year, has been spreading in 23 African countries while the B1.1.7 strain, first found in the UK, has been found in 20 countries in the continent, celebgossip.co.za understands.
WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said: “The tragedy in India does not have to happen here in Africa, but we must all be on the highest possible alert. Governments must maintain strong surveillance and detection systems, reassess and bolster their treatment capacities, step up the supply of critical medicines, including medical oxygen and ensure there are enough beds for severely-ill patients.”
He added that new variants such as the ones that emerged in India and South Africa could unleash a "third wave" on the continent.
"The tragedy in India does not have to happen here in Africa, but we must all be on the highest possible alert," said regional WHO director Matshidiso Moeti.
"While we call for vaccine equity, Africa must also knuckle down and make the best of what we have. We must get all the doses we have into people's arms."
Some African countries had been exemplary in deploying vaccines, the WHO said, without naming them.
But it added that in spite of this, only just under "half of the 37 million doses received in Africa have been administered so far".
Africa now accounts for only one percent of vaccine doses administered globally, the WHO said — down from two percent a few weeks ago, as other regions' rollouts are progressing much faster.
The first vaccine deliveries to 41 African countries under the Covax scheme began in March but nine countries have so far administered only a quarter of the doses received, while 15 countries have used less than half of their allocations.
The vaccination rate in Africa is the world's lowest. Globally an average of 150 vaccine doses per 1,000 people have been administered, but in sub-Saharan Africa it is hardly eight doses per 1,000, according to the WHO.