Discussion Takeaways: Africa's Readiness for the Covid-19 Vaccine Drive

Article Summary:

On 8th April 2021, Africa Health Business held a discussion on Africa’s readiness for the COVID-19 vaccine, with participants representing Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health, COVAX, the Africa CDC, BroadReach, Astral Aviation and Amref. 

The experts on the panel gave a summary of the current status of the vaccine rollout on the continent, highlighted the primary challenges and identified the opportunities moving forward. Continue to read a brief summary and some key takeaways of the enlightening conversation.

The scale of the challenge is immense, and this is the largest immunisation drive in Africa’s history.
The vaccines for this novel virus have been developed in record time and now the focus is on how quickly we can administer the vaccine to the global population. The COVID-19 immunisation drive for Africa is the largest in the continent’s history.

A licensed vaccine is just the first step.
The vaccines now need to be produced at scale, priced affordably and distributed globally. With this in mind, the WHO has rightly advocated for a whole government approach, maximizing the use of all national capacity including public, private, NGO, donors and any other stakeholders who can contribute meaningfully to this process. The successful rollout of vaccines will require the timely execution of an interconnected chain of processes executed by a range of different stakeholders. In order to succeed, all players will need to work collaboratively.

Although existing structures used for routine immunisations should be leveraged, the scale and speed of the COVID-19 immunisation campaign calls for leadership beyond the Ministry of Health.
Africa is behind many other parts of the world in the vaccine rollout, but progress is being made. The first vaccination program on the continent began in Ghana at the end of February 2021 and there are now more than 35 countries vaccinating their populations. The Africa CDC is working with the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) and the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) to secure vaccine doses for the continent. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi is now able to store up to 200 million doses of vaccines for the rest of Africa, with two types of temperature settings. The Africa CDC is currently in the process of setting up a dashboard for the vaccine progress on the continent

The success of the mass immunisation drive in Africa relies heavily on the supply of vaccines to each county and the supply chain infrastructure within countries.
The continent has achieved milestones worth celebrating, but there are also many significant challenges. There are difficulties on the supply side, with the whole world scrambling for a limited supply of this precious resource, leading to vaccine nationalism. There are significant logistical challenges due to the complex coordination required for a successful vaccine program, along with limited infrastructure and a lack of uptake of technology-based solutions. Investments in the establishment of cold chain facilities spanning the entire supply chain, from shipment to delivery, will be critical. Additionally, the distribution of ancillary vaccine supplies—such as syringes will also require effective coordination and collaboration. Particularly challenging will be the last-mile delivery of vaccines to rural areas.

Public communication, messaging, and education will be required to ensure that populations are aware of vaccination drives and that populations choose to receive the vaccine.
There are also challenges on the demand side of the vaccine rollout, with high levels of misinformation leading to vaccine hesitancy, even from key stakeholders like community health workers. There are several things that will be required for a successful vaccine campaign moving forward. People in places of influence and leadership need to set an example by promoting factual information, educating their communities and getting the vaccine themselves when they are able.

Digitisation of data will enable real-time situation monitoring and swift issue mitigation.
It is essential to have data on the numbers and locations of people who need the vaccine, a health system that is ready to administer the vaccine, the assurance that each stakeholder is delivering on their mandates, and follow-up services available and accessible for those who need them. Digitised, up-to-date demographic data will significantly improve pre-delivery planning, including accuracy of demand and supply forecasting. In the delivery and post-delivery phases, digitisation of data will enable real-time situation monitoring and swift issue mitigation.

We can leverage COVID-19 to establish stronger UHC platforms.
The African health sector has the opportunity to address this pandemic, not as a one-off event, but as a chance to implement systems that will address all health challenges. The COVID-19 virus is unique in many ways, but the systems required to address it effectively are the same as any other disease. Ministries of health can use this vaccine rollout to strengthen the resilience of their health systems.

By Kaushal Shah, Head Corporate Communication, AHB