WHO report suggests African countries are not ready for COVID-19 vaccines

The WHO Regional Director for Africa urges governments to “ramp up readiness” as report suggests the region is not prepared for a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.

Syringe laid on a map of Africa - idea of vaccine distribution in Africa

According to a new World Health Organization (WHO) analysis, Africa is not ready for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and “the continent’s largest ever immunisation drive”.

The organisation said that all 47 countries in the WHO African Region have received WHO’s Vaccine Readiness Assessment Tool. The tool, it added, provides a roadmap for countries to plan for COVID-19 vaccine introduction and is intended to be used by Ministries of Health to guide preparations.

The tool covers 10 key areas, including planning and coordination; resources and funding; vaccine regulations; service delivery; training and supervision; monitoring and evaluation; vaccine logistics; vaccine safety and surveillance; and communications and community engagement.

An analysis of data provided to the WHO by the 40 countries that have updated the tool suggests the African region has an average score of 33 percent readiness for a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. The desired target is 80 percent.

“The largest immunisation drive in Africa’s history is right around the corner and African governments must urgently ramp up readiness. Planning and preparation will make or break this unprecedented endeavour and we need active leadership and engagement from the highest levels of government with solid, comprehensive national coordination plans and systems put in place,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The COVAX facility, the vaccines pillar of the WHO Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, will work to secure enough doses for 20 percent of the African population once vaccines are licenced and approved. But according to the report:

  • only 49 percent of African countries studied have identified the priority populations for vaccination and have plans in place to reach them
  • just 44 percent have coordination structures in place
  • 24 percent have adequate plans for resources and funding; additionally
  • less than a fifth have data collection and monitoring tools ready; and only 12 percent have plans to communicate with communities to build trust and drive demand for immunisation. 

“Developing a safe and effective vaccine is just the first step in a successful rollout,” said Dr Moeti. “If communities are not onboard and convinced that a vaccine will protect their health, we will make little headway. It is critical that countries reach out to communities and hear their concerns and give them a voice in the process.”

The WHO added that the estimated cost of rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine to priority populations on the African continent will be around $5.7 billion. This estimate does not include the additional 15 to 20 percent cost for injection materials and the delivery of vaccines.