COVID-19 vaccines: global coverage still low

TORONTO – Vaccine inequality is a more pressing concern than ever, but despite rich countries demonstrating donation of doses, the roll-out of those doses to the poorest regions of the world has been a slow drop rather than l flooding necessary for broad protection.

Doses of vaccine given to COVAX by Canada have started to arrive at their intended destinations, as the spread of Omicron highlights one of the dangers of not ensuring global vaccine coverage.

At Tabitha Medical Clinic in Kibera, Kenya, healthcare workers finally receive the first box of AstraZenca vaccines donated by Canadians, now called Vaxzevria.

Eddah Ogogo, coordinator of the health care program in the region, said they were “excited” to receive the doses of the vaccine.

“It is very crucial in the fight against the pandemic,” she said.

This clinic sits in the middle of a poor and densely populated community outside of Nairobi with an estimated population of over 250,000.

The clinic was founded by local nurse Tabitha Atieno Festo, and is now funded

by an international charity, CFK Africa, as well as a partnership with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He relies on shipments like this from Canada.

Kenya is one of three African countries that began receiving the first Canadian shipments of AstraZeneca this fall through COVAX, the World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine donation program. which seeks to provide vaccines to low-income countries where access to vaccines is still a huge problem. Nigeria and Niger also started receiving doses in September.

While Canada announced that he will donate, through financial support or direct doses, the equivalent of at least 200 million doses to COVAX by the end of 2022, so far it has shipped around 9.1 million doses according to the government website – a small fraction of the amount Canada raised.

In Kenya, less than 11 percent of people have so far received even a single dose.

According to a Reuters tracker, the country has reported around 255,000 COVID-19 infections and 5,300 virus-related deaths.

Amos Achola, who lives in Kibera, says he has lost five family members and even more neighbors to COVID-19 so far.

“COVID-19 has really affected my family negatively because I used to work,” he said. “When COVID-19 hit I stayed here and to this day I am unemployed right now. “

After some hesitation, he said he stopped listening to rumors that the vaccine was dangerous and came to the clinic to get the shot.

He said he thinks it is important to get the vaccine because he believes in the need to protect himself.

Global health officials have been warning for months that delaying vaccination globally could allow new variants to thrive in countries with lower immunization levels.

So far, there have been no cases of the Omicron variant at the Tabitha Medical Clinic, but allowing COVID-19 to spread unchecked in the poorest parts of the world is a recipe for disaster, according to reports. responsible.

In parts of Kenya, five to seven people often share a 10ft by 10ft house, the majority of families do not have regular access to clean water and soap, and masks can be prohibitive for people. living on less than US $ 2 per person. daytime.

“We have a lot of small townhouses,” Ogogo said, describing the community around the clinic.

“Isolation is also very difficult. [Sick patients] will have to share with small living units and this can increase the spread of the virus if a member of the household is infected. “

But while this clinic is able to immunize today using doses from Canada, with the arrival of other doses of Pfizer and Moderna, vaccine sharing remains shamefully low, according to global health officials, rich countries achieving high levels of immunization while some poorer regions of the world did not even receive the first doses.

“Vaccination is our best defense,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said at a press conference last week. “But while many high-income countries report more than 60% immunization coverage, just over 7% of Africa’s population is fully immunized, despite increased shipments of doses to the continent. ”

COVAX was supposed to receive 3.67 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine, but so far they have 589 million.

A database managed by the International Monetary Fund and WHO, which measures the number of vaccines countries obtain relative to their population, shows that Canada has secured 414% of its population, which means we have purchased enough vaccines to fully immunize our population four times.

According to the same database, Kenya only got enough vaccines for 56% of the population. The database does not look at how many people have received vaccines in an area, but simply the guaranteed supply or the expected supply.

Another dataset WHO and IMF found that 73 countries are not on track to meet the 40% immunization coverage target by the end of 2021. None of these countries have been designated as income countries. raised.

Catherine Hankins, a member of the Canadian COVID-19 Immunity Working Group, said there were issues with “the lack of notice and the short shelf life of donations.

“What do I mean by that, these are the countries […] must receive vaccines that have a shelf life of at least 10 weeks to be able to use them, and they need four weeks’ notice for them to arrive, ”she explained.

“The important points are really that you can feel that you are doing well because you donate vaccines, but if you donate vaccines with a shorter shelf life and you don’t give countries enough notice of their arrival, they ‘we can’t use it well so we have to really think about it together. How do we make it work logistically? “

She said if Canada is committed to helping get the unvaccinated around the world immunized, we must step up our efforts.

“Right now we see what happens when we don’t pay attention to what is happening in other countries. “

Hankins said the vaccine production capacity in Africa will eventually need to be increased. To this end, the World Health Organization, COVAX and the Patent pool for medicines joined forces with Africa CDC and partners to create an mRNA technology transfer center in South Africa. Unfortunately, its efforts will take time, and the people of the continent need vaccines now.

Local health workers at the Tabitha clinic in Kenya just want a steady supply. So far, they have successfully delivered the first doses to 1,026 beneficiaries. Those working at the clinic say that despite widespread reluctance to get vaccinated, more and more people are starting to come forward for the shot.

Ogogo said they needed doses “without fear of delay, that fear of coming to the facility and missing something.”

It is a desperate call as the world learns the hard lessons of shared protection.

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