African countries should establish robust infrastructure and invest in manpower to facilitate deployment of COVID-19 vaccine in the continent, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Thursday.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional director for Africa said that seamless distribution of the vaccine is key to contain the virus amid surging infections in the continent.
“The largest immunization drive in Africa’s history is right around the corner, and African governments must urgently ramp up readiness,” Moeti said in a statement issued in Nairobi.
“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 in place,” she added.
A survey conducted by WHO indicated that many African countries are not adequately prepared to carry out immunization against COVID-19 amid personnel and logistical hiccups.
The survey found that the continent has an average score of 33 percent readiness for a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, which is below the desired benchmark of 80 percent.
All the 47 countries in the WHO African region have received its Vaccine Readiness Assessment Tool that is intended for use by ministries of health.
The tool provides a roadmap for countries to plan for COVID-19 vaccine introduction and covers ten critical areas including planning and coordination, resources and planning, vaccine regulations, logistics, community engagement, safety and surveillance.
“Developing a safe and effective vaccine is just the first step in a successful rollout,” said Moeti.
“If communities are not on board 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,” she added.
She said that WHO and partners have already released guidelines that African governments can use to enhance smooth administration of COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable groups like the elderly and terminally ill.
According to a WHO analysis of African countries’ readiness data, 49 percent have identified the priority populations for vaccination and have plans in place to reach them while 44 percent have coordination structures in place.
Likewise, only 24 percent of the countries have adequate plans for resources and funding, 17 percent have data collection and monitoring tools ready and just 12 percent have plans to communicate with communities and build trust, boost demand for immunization.