COVID-19 vaccines are a fundamental tool for controlling the ongoing pandemic, minimising social disruption and economic consequences, and further decreasing the emergence of new variants.
The start of 2021 was momentous for the continent as the first COVID-19 vaccines were received through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, known as the COVAX facility. The continent instantly embarked on a large-scale vaccination drive to ensure that the population is protected against this harmful virus. The COVID-19 vaccines rollout remains the biggest, most rapid and most complex continental drive-in history.
Africa CDC’s commitment to safeguarding the continent’s health was greatly demonstrated in the vaccine rollout processes. The Agency provided leadership in ensuring fair, equitable and timely allocation of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa. However, the vaccination presented its share of challenges, particularly the shortage of vaccines and inadequate funding to procure vaccines. The lengthy procurement processes for large volumes of vaccine supplies provided most Member States with a short period for vaccine delivery leading to the potential expiry of doses.
As part of Africa CDC’s strategic response to the pandemic and in efforts to save the lives and livelihoods of millions of people on the continent and hasten the economic recovery, partnered with Mastercard Foundation in establishing the Saving lives and Livelihoods initiative in June 2021. The three-year-long partnership aims to rapidly scale up COVID-19 vaccination on the continent with a target of achieving 70% coverage at the end of the project implementation period.
At the inception of this partnership, there was a solid commitment to apply targeted interventions in critical areas to accelerate vaccination scale-up. One major intervention was the urgent need to accelerate the vaccination programs in several Member States whose doses of vaccines were due to expire within a month. Consequently, the urgent support interventions were extended to support Member States that reported adverse events following immunization and very low COVID-19 vaccination coverage. The first Member States to benefit from this support included Cameroon, Namibia, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Lesotho, Morocco, Tanzania and Zambia.
The urgent support to prevent and reduce COVID-19 Vaccines Expiry and demand creation led to the setup of new COVID-19 Vaccination Centers (CVCs) and the strengthening of existing CVCs for increased access to vaccination sites by the population. Similarly, the logistics of supplying vaccinations from the central cold rooms to the centres, including the ancillaries needed to support their functioning, was established. This was further reinforced by deploying a surge capacity of Health worker staffing to fast-track the vaccine delivery.
Targeted Risk Communication and Community Engagement in generating demand among the populace, including countering negative perceptions of the vaccine, greatly contributed to the accomplishment of the programme.
The success of the urgent support was attributed to the extensive coordination mechanisms and National support from the Ministries of Health, National Public Health Institutes (NPHI) or the countries’ equivalent. The national level closely collaborated with the Country engagement workstream of the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative.
Challenges that harboured the successful implementation of the programme were noted, particularly vaccine apathy compounded by traditional and cultural practices. Natural disasters harbouring access and limited internet access for timely data entry and reporting, among others, were registered.
Most activities hit the target or above including vaccine delivery, vaccine ancillary supplies, setting up of new CVCs and deployment of trained vaccinators. In some Member States, the support translated to the strengthening and creation of new vaccination sites bringing services closer to the communities. Further, there was tremendous workforce development through the recruitment and training of community health workers to support future vaccination drives.
Through the urgent support model by Africa CDC and Mastercard Foundation, 2,573,762 doses were administered, preventing their untimely expiration. Cumulatively, including large-scale vaccination drives, the total number of vaccines administered on the continent through the support of Africa CDC as of February 20, 2023, is 23,159,340. The Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative aims to expand its impact by accelerating and integrating COVID-19 vaccination with other public health priority areas like routine immunization in strengthening the health system in Africa.
For more information, contact:
Dorothy Wambeti Njagi, Senior Communication Officer – Policy, Health Diplomacy & Communication: Africa CDC | Tel: +251 940 559 950 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org