Ultimate magazine theme for WordPress.

By mid-2022, we can vaccinate 70% of the world against Covid. here’s how

As western countries struggle to roll out their booster to face the Omicron wave, only 8.4% of people in low-income countries have had at least one Covid vaccination dose.

The gap in vaccination coverage between high- and low-income countries is wider than ever. We cannot remain blind to it.

Vaccines distributed to African countries under the Covax scheme are often close to expiration and delivery has been delayed. AD hoc at best. In Nigeria, where only 2% of the population is fully vaccinated, they simply had to destroy more than a million vaccines that almost expired.

Nigeria is not the only country struggling. In Ghana, where 7.4% of the population is vaccinated, Fred Osei-Sarpong, representative of the World Health Organization, said: “The receipt of vaccines with a short shelf life puts undue pressure on staff and makes it difficult to adequately plan for effective vaccine delivery.”

These short shelf lives are a serious barrier to the supply of vaccines to rural areas. We partnered with Benjamin Ongeri, health supply chain specialist at Crown Agents in Kenya – where 7.2% of the population is fully vaccinated – to supply medicines for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). He says: “There are huge challenges in getting medicine to the last mile. We know this from working with NTDs for many years. It is very difficult to reach the people most affected because they are vulnerable, often marginalized and living in remote locations with bad roads and poor infrastructure.”

Covid vaccines in a landfill in Abuja, Nigeria, December 2021. More than a million doses of expired vaccine were destroyed. Photo: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

The same challenges have slowed the uptake of Covid vaccines. And this is compounded by the fact that these vaccines require a cold (or ultra-cold) chain logistics infrastructure that often doesn’t exist in these areas.

It also doesn’t help that the vaccines mainly administered in Africa are the ones the West has decided not to accept.

“In Ghana, there was high demand in the early stages of the vaccine rollout,” Osei-Sarpong says. There were no vaccines then. The interruption in the rollout impacted communication efforts and this gap created the space for misinformation and rumours.

According to the WHO vaccine sstrategy, published in October, aims to have 70% global coverage by June 2022. How can this goal be achieved?

Will the liberalization of intellectual property rights, often cited as a possible solution, bridge the widening gap? Neither Osei-Sarpong nor Ongeri believes this is the answer. For a country to start producing vaccines from scratch would be a huge challenge. According to Ongeri, “Countries like Kenya have started this journey by focusing on the local filling of vaccine vials, which is still challenging given the need for state-of-the-art pharmaceutical plants that guarantee safe production without risk of contamination.”

Much more will be needed in technology transfer and building the expertise needed to fully produce vaccines locally, which cannot be achieved in the short to medium term.

The answer lies in global funding mechanisms like Covax – provided they can guarantee pre-planned vaccine availability. A more equitable distribution of the injections on a structural basis with a longer shelf life will allow realistic and efficient planning.

“By providing funds for surgery and the availability of vaccines, Ghana will be able to develop strategies and meet the coverage set by the WHO,” Osei-Sarpong said.

In addition to common elements such as the lack of sufficient vaccines with adequate shelf-life, each country has its own unique circumstances that lead to low vaccination rates. So with the funding available, each country can align its efforts to combat those conditions and ensure the vaccines can get to the last mile.

In Kenya, Ongeri says they need the resources to conduct door-to-door vaccination campaigns, as well as to vaccinate children.

Where a well-functioning delivery system exists, countries have high vaccine delivery rates. Kenya, for example, has an estimated 80% coverage for pediatric vaccines. In Ghana it is more than 90%. The WHO’s goal may not be as out of reach as it seems.

It is not only in the interest of vaccine-deficient countries for urgent action to be taken. as the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said:“None of us are safe until we all are.”