EU pushes for COVID jabs in Africa as supply ‘no longer’ an issue

Supplies of COVID vaccines have soared in recent months and many states have trouble absorbing them.
A nurse gives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine to a man in Dakar, Senegal [File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

Top European Union officials have said low absorption of COVID-19 vaccines in African countries had become the main problem in the global vaccine rollout following a recent increase in supplies of jabs.

African nations began their vaccine campaigns much later than wealthier states which rushed to secure the initially limited doses starting in late 2020.

But in recent months, supplies have increased exponentially, and many states have trouble absorbing them, with some, such as Congo and Burundi, having used less than 20 percent of available doses, according to figures from Gavi, a nonprofit global vaccine alliance.

“The problem seems no longer to be the level of donations,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference in Lyon on Wednesday.

“The problem is absorption,” he added at the end of a meeting of EU health and foreign ministers, which he chaired as France holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

EU diplomats said that vaccines’ short shelf life, limited storage facilities, poor healthcare infrastructure and vaccine hesitancy were among the main reasons that hampered vaccination in Africa.

EU to boost spending on vaccinations

Separately, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU would increase spending to boost vaccinations in African states that were lagging behind.

“We have to make efforts to accelerate vaccinations, especially in African countries where vaccination rates are the lowest,” she said at a conference in Dakar, Senegal.

She added the EU would spend 125 million euros ($143 million) to help countries train medical staff and administer doses, in addition to 300 million euros already committed for this purpose by the EU and its states.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks to officials during a tour of the Pasteur Institute vaccination and testing facility, in Dakar, Senegal [Edward McAllister/Reuters]

An EU official said the EU wanted to shift its message to Africa “from vaccines to vaccination”.

However, von der Leyen said the EU would keep sending doses to Africa, with the aim of delivering 450 million vaccines by mid-year, three times higher than the volume already shared.

Vaccine absorption will be a key issue at a summit of EU and African Union leaders next week in Brussels, Le Drian said.

Gavi, which co-runs the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccine-sharing programme COVAX, said the usage rate of COVID-19 shots in the 91 poorest nations it supports was 67 percent.

But some African countries were lagging much behind. Zambia, Chad, Madagascar, Djibouti, Somalia, Burkina Faso and Uganda had used only about one-third of doses that they received, Gavi said, citing data updated to late January.

About 10 percent of populations in Africa have been immunised against COVID-19 so far.

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