WHO: Africa in 'urgent need' of 20 million second vaccine doses within six weeks

WHO: Africa in 'urgent need' of 20 million second vaccine doses within six weeks
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The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa called on Thursday for at least 20 million second COVID-19 vaccine doses to be sent to the continent within six weeks, saying people are in “urgent need.”

The regional office’s request for millions of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shots comes as African officials are struggling to collect enough doses to give people their second shots within the eight to 12 week period after the first dose. 

One dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine provides the recipient with about 70 percent protection from COVID-19 for at least 12 weeks. But data beyond 12 weeks for a single dose is currently “limited.” 

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WHO’s regional office also requested an additional 200 million doses of any WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine to help the continent achieve the WHO director-general’s goal of vaccinating 10 percent of its population by September. 

WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said that it’s “too soon” to predict whether Africa is entering a third wave. 

“As supplies dry up, dose-sharing is an urgent, critical and short-term solution to ensuring that Africans at the greatest risk of COVID-19 get the much-needed protection,” Moeti said. “Africa needs vaccines now. Any pause in our vaccination campaigns will lead to lost lives and lost hope.”

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus set the target of having every country reach vaccinating 10 percent of its population by September and at least 30 percent by the end of 2021 earlier this week. 

At this point, Africa has administered about 28 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, amounting to less than two doses per 100 people living on the continent. Comparatively, 1.5 billion vaccines have been given worldwide, including almost 290 million in the U.S. 

Tedros pointed out that more than 75 percent of all vaccines have been given out in only 10 countries, saying “a small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world.”

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He called for WHO member states to provide doses to COVAX, a program designed to get vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. 

The U.S. has committed to send 20 million vaccines to other countries, in addition to a promised 60 million AstraZeneca doses once the Food and Drug Administration gives that vaccine emergency authorization. 

France has supplied Mauritania with more than 31,000 doses and an additional 74,400 shots are set for “imminent delivery.” France also plans to send half a million more doses to six African nations over the next few weeks. 

The European Union has committed to sending more than 100 million doses to low-income countries by the end of the year. 

WHO’s Regional Office for Africa also promoted intellectual property waivers as a “crucial first step” in helping African countries produce their own vaccines. 

The vaccine patent waivers have been a divisive issue in the U.S., with the pharmaceutical industry and Republicans pitted against Democrats and progressive groups who support such a move.