Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Africa heads for second wave amid vaccine worries

African health officials say the continent will suffer as richer countries buy up vaccine supplies.

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The African continent has just passed the milestone of two million confirmed Covid-19 cases as a top public health official warned on Thursday that “we are inevitably edging toward a second wave of infections”.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the 54-nation continent has seen more than 48,000 deaths. Its infections and deaths make up less than 4% of the global total.

The African continent of 1.3 billion people is being warned against “prevention fatigue” as more countries ease pandemic restrictions to bolster their suffering economies, reports AP.

“If we relent, then all the sacrifices we made over the past 10 months will be wiped away,” Africa CDC director John Nkengasong told reporters at a press conference.

While the world takes hope from promising vaccines, African health officials worry the continent will suffer as richer countries buy up supplies.

Nkengasong noted that the Pfizer vaccine requires storage at -70 degrees Celsius, and warned this is a problem as richer countries will be much better equipped to handle the vaccines quickly.

A storage network capable of such temperatures was put in place for West Africa’s Ebola outbreak a few years ago but did not cover the whole continent. Nkengasong told AP, “If we were to deploy across the whole of Africa, it would be extremely challenging. Let’s hope in the coming weeks other vaccines will show more ease of distribution in resource-limited settings like Africa.”

The Moderna vaccine requires storage at -20 degrees Celsius, which Nkengasong called promising. But the price of any vaccine is another factor in its fair distribution, he said. “So if a vaccine is US$40 it becomes exclusive to countries able to afford it.”

Early data from a vaccine perception survey in 11 African countries show 81% of respondents would accept a vaccine, he said. “So that’s very, very encouraging news.”

Several African countries have confirmed virus cases in the six figures. South Africa leads with more than 750,000, while Morocco has more than 300,000, Egypt more than 110,000 and Ethiopia more than 100,000.

Kenya is seeing a surge in cases. At least four doctors died on Saturday alone, leading a powerful health union in the country to threaten a nationwide strike.

The African continent has conducted 20 million coronavirus tests since the pandemic began, but shortages of tests mean the true number of infections is unknown.

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