Southern Africa is being hit both by a new strain of the Coronavirus and a slowdown in vaccinations.
World Health Organization Regional Director Matshidiso Moeti says “We are already seeing an uptick in cases in Southern Africa with a 485% jump in new cases compared to the presiding week. This comes after 18 weeks of sustained decline."
Moeti and other health officials note the emergence of a strong new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1529, that has proven to be highly transmissible.
While the pandemic has killed over 221,000 Africans, to date only 10% of Africa’s population have received the COVID-19 jab, with a combination of 330 million doses of the vaccine distributed across the continent by COVAX, the international vaccine consortium. .
Health officials on the continent say the Coronavirus vaccination rate has drastically slowed down, raising concerns about stopping the global pandemic.
Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, John Nkengasong says the decrease in inoculation is a result of inefficient vaccine distribution programs.
“Only 55% of the vaccines that have arrived have been used in the continent. That’s an unacceptable situation because of distribution which means that if people want to be vaccinated, they can be vaccinated,” he said.
Nkengasong adds that it is important that the continent step up its vaccination rate as the year-end holidays approach because people gather - amplifying the chance for the virus' spread.
While many parts of the continent struggle to get sufficient vaccine supplies, South Africa,one of two countries where the B.1.1529 COVID-19 variant is spreading, reports an oversupply of vaccines in stock. But getting the public protected by the jab remains a significant challenge.
"We should have, by now, over 250,000 [vaccinations] a day," says South Africa's National Health Director, Dr. Nicholas Crisp. He describes a proactive effort that is not being taken advantage of, with too many people not aware of the risk of not getting the jab.
"We've got a lot of initiatives targeting outreach clinics, mass vaccination sites, private vaccinations in pharmacies," Crisp says, "But all are reporting that they are not full and could be seeing a lot more people."
Crisp says that South Africa, like many nations on the continent, is rife with misinformation about the Coronavirus and fake cures. He says those who doubt should listen to those who have survived, and about those who did not.
"Consider testimonies of the many people telling us about their personal experiences in hospital, and of friends and family members who were not vaccinated and got into serious trouble and died. We know that vaccines save lives," he said.