Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown says the new strain is “no surprise,” and that richer countries’ failure to provide vaccine doses is “coming back to haunt us.”
So, do southern African countries have enough vaccines, and do they get to the people who need them?
The global average is more than 100 doses per 100 people, and many of the world’s wealthier nations have well exceeded this. In South Africa, however, just 42 dosages per 100 persons had been provided. The rates are even lower elsewhere in the region. Lesotho has only given out 30 doses per 100 individuals, whereas Namibia has only given out 25.
African countries have gotten vaccines through a combination of bilateral agreements, contributions, and the Covax vaccine-sharing plan. Countries struggled to receive supplies through Covax earlier this year, but the situation improved in July and August.
Despite an increase in the delivery of doses to African countries, the Global Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) claims that donations have been “ad hoc, delivered with little notice and limited shelf life” so far. In a recent statement, Gavi stated that this makes planning immunisation programmes particularly difficult for countries.
Last week, for example, the South African health ministry postponed the supply of further vaccination doses due to an excess of stock. South Africa has 16.8 million pills in storage, according to the country’s deputy director-general of the health department, according to Reuters.
According to reports, numerous African governments were forced to throw away vaccination doses that had beyond their expiration dates. According to data from the Airfinity research project, 384 million doses have been distributed to Africa for a population of over 1.2 billion people. In a population of around 40 million adults, South Africa has received 32.5 million doses.
In Botswana, approximately 2.4 million doses were administered for a population of 2.3 million people, and in Namibia, approximately one million doses were delivered for a population of 2.5 million people. Uneven supply has definitely been an issue, but the fact that South Africa has had to postpone dose deliveries shows there is more going on.
South Africa’s Health Minister, Joe Phaahla, believes “false news” is to blame for people’s scepticism about the vaccine, particularly among younger generations. There is a lot of concern regarding the vaccine’s safety, which is sometimes fueled by misinformation or a lack of solid information. Serious side effects are extremely rare, according to evidence from large-scale clinical trials and the billions of people who have already been injected, and pale in comparison to the side effects of Covid, especially in younger people.
Some of the allegations being circulated are completely incorrect, but others have some validity to them, such as the fact that you can still get Covid after being vaccinated.
This, according to research conducted in collaboration with the South African health authority, has caused some people to assume vaccines are ineffective. But that isn’t the case; you can still get Covid, but it will be much milder for most people because the vaccine minimises symptoms, keeps people out of hospitals, and drastically reduces the number of people who die from the virus.
Fear of side effects and concerns about safety were recognised as two of the most common causes for non-vaccination. The third factor was accessibility, which included travel time to immunisation centres.
According to a report prepared for the health department, many people in rural communities in northwest South Africa do not have easy access to vaccination locations. In certain regions, there have also been supply concerns, with clinics running out of dosages before they’ve vaccinated everyone who’s shown up to be injected.
In South Africa, Sarah Downs, a vaccine and communicable diseases researcher at Wits University in Johannesburg, said there was “a lot more hesitancy than anti-vax rhetoric.”
In some circumstances, people were unable to get vaccinated because clinics did not travel to where they were, or because they believed they had to pay for the vaccine.
Poor public transportation in some places has also made getting to a clinic more difficult and expensive, she said.
As an example of how these many factors can interact, a study conducted by the University of Johannesburg discovered that while white individuals are more vaccinated than black people, white people are also more likely to have had the vaccine, probably due to better access to healthcare.