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More than 13.6 million – including 12 million AstraZeneca – vaccine doses have been administered in Africa, with most of the adverse events reports following vaccination involving only mild to moderate side effects. There have been no cases of blood coagulation disorders reported following vaccination.
Monitoring vaccine safety is critical to COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The World Health Organization (WHO)-led African Vaccine Regulatory Forum (AVAREF) is supporting African countries to ramp up regulatory capacity and oversight, which includes authorization and inspection of clinical trials, and approval of vaccines and other medical products. The continent has established strong regulatory agencies. Regulators from Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa and Tanzania participated in WHO global assessments for the three COVID-19 vaccines which have so far received Emergency Use Listing.
“To significantly slow down COVID-19 we must avert serious illness, hospitalization and death. Every vaccine shot given moves us a step closer to ending this pandemic,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “But this historic endeavour is not risk-free. African countries have put in place stringent regulations and are monitoring for side effects and any severe adverse events following vaccination. WHO is working closely with countries to manage potential risks.”
There have been recent reports of rare blood clots among a few recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine in several European countries and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the United States of America. The WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety is monitoring the reports on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. On AstraZeneca, the committee’s review found that a causal relationship between the vaccine and the occurrence of blood clots with low platelets is plausible but not confirmed.
To date, more than 200 million people have received AstraZeneca vaccines around the world and cases of blood clots and low platelets are extremely low – fewer than 200 cases have been reported. COVID-19 on the other hand has claimed nearly 3 million lives worldwide. While the vaccine reviews continue, WHO considers – based on available data – that the benefits of receiving AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccine greatly outweigh the risks.
In Africa, AstraZeneca vaccine doses have been delivered to 36 countries through the COVAX Facility – a vaccine-procurement platform co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and WHO in partnership with UNICEF.
A total of 45 African countries have started COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. Over two-thirds of the administered doses have been given in 10 countries where supplies are running low or are depleted.
“COVID-19 vaccine access remains starkly unequal across the world. In high-income countries, one in four people on average has received a COVID-19 vaccine compared with just one in 500 in lower-income countries, which includes many African countries,” said Dr Moeti.
With limited supplies and delays in vaccine shipment, it is important for Africa to develop its own vaccine manufacturing capacity. The continent is home to 16% of the world’s population but produces 0.1% of vaccines. African countries that largely rely on importation are particularly vulnerable to delays in accessing essential health products during the pandemic.
Africa has now recorded over 4.3 million COVID-19 cases. In the past 28 days, new cases rose by 50% or higher in 13 countries including Angola, Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Kenya. Twenty-nine countries, including Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, reported a decrease in new cases. Overall, Africa has seen a downward trend in cases over the past month.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa held a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group during which Dr Richard Mihigo, the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme Coordinator, WHO Regional Office for Africa, briefed on vaccine rollout in Africa. He was joined by Dr Boitumelo Semete, CEO, South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, Professor Oyewale Tomori, Emeritus President and Professor of Virology, Redeemer’s University, Ede, Nigeria. Also on hand to answer questions were Dr Thierno Balde, Team Lead, Operational Partnerships, WHO Regional Office for Africa, and Dr Mory Keita, Technical Officer, WHO Regional Office for Africa.