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AstraZeneca Africa boss speaks out on shortage of vaccine doses

Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Africa needs at least 20 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the next six weeks to administer second doses to all who received the first dose within the 8-12-week interval recommended in-between the doses.

By Hudson Kuteesa

A single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine gives around 70 per cent protection for at least 12 weeks.

Data on what protection one gets from one dose after 12 weeks is limited, however, Covid-19 antibodies have been found in the body up to six months after one dose. The full course provided with a 12-week interval gives 81% protection for an extended period.

Rwanda, just like many African governments are faced with a challenge to acquire doses for the second jab in time, and on a positive note, late last week, the country got an additional 247,000 doses, and has since started administering the second jab to citizens.

However, the acquired doses fall short since the number of people that received the first dose reaches up to 290,000.

In an exclusive interview with The New Times, Barbara Nel, AstraZeneca Africa Region Country President reflected on the shortfall of doses in Africa, its cause and what is needed to address it.

“We agree completely with our partners at WHO that the supply of Covid-19 vaccines to African nations has reached a critical point. The decision to suspend vaccine exports from India, as a result of the terrible situation there, has caused a serious supply shortfall in Africa,” she said.

“The question for everyone in the vaccine alliance now is how we work together to try to make up the shortfall and get more doses to Africa,” she added, as she highlighted the need for more funding to begin securing new supply of vaccine for delivery through 2021 and into 2022,

“As WHO said last week, if world leaders rally together, the original COVAX objectives – delivery of 2 billion doses of vaccines worldwide in 2021, and 1.8 billion doses to 92 lower income economies by early 2022 are still well within reach,” she said.

She also noted that there is need for countries with the largest supplies to start sharing doses with others,

“More and more nations are now doing this. AstraZeneca is working with COVAX to get more vaccine to Africa, and we are pursuing several such options at the present time. The donation from France to Rwanda is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when all partners work together,” she said.

She also stressed the need for sharing intellectual property (IP) and know-how in regard to vaccine manufacturing,

“The extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. AstraZeneca has risen to the challenge of creating a not-for-profit vaccine that is widely available around the world and we are proud that our COVID-19 vaccine accounts for 96% of all supplies to COVAX,” she said.

“To make wide vaccine access a reality, we have established 20 supply lines over the last year, spread across the globe and have shared the IP and know-how with dozens of partners, one of which is SII (Serum Institute of India), the largest vaccine manufacturer globally and the main supplier to Africa. In fact, our model is similar to what an open IP model could look like. We will continue working in partnership with other manufacturers, governments and public health experts,” she added.

“We will continue working in partnership with other manufacturers, governments and public health experts in all parts of the world in order to provide broad and equitable access to vaccines around the world.”

Meanwhile, a source in the Ministry of Health told The New Times that soon, more AstraZeneca doses will be acquired, and negotiations for this are underway.

The source added that the country also expects to acquire more doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the near future.

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