CAPE TOWN, South Africa — In the global race to vaccinate people against COVID-19, Africa is tragically at the back of the pack.
In fact, it has barely gotten out of the starting blocks.
In South Africa, which has the continent’s most robust economy and its biggest coronavirus caseload, just 0.8% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to a worldwide tracker kept by Johns Hopkins University. And hundreds of thousands of the country’s health workers, many of whom come face-to-face with the virus every day, are still waiting for their shots.
In Nigeria, Africa’s biggest country with more than 200 million people, only 0.1% are fully protected. Kenya, with 50 million people, is even lower. Uganda has recalled doses from rural areas because it doesn’t have nearly enough to fight outbreaks in big cities.
Chad didn’t administer its first vaccine shots until this past weekend. And there are at least five other countries in Africa where not one dose has been put into an arm, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The World Health Organization says the continent of 1.3 billion people is facing a severe shortage of vaccine at the same time a new wave of infections is rising across Africa. The shortfall is estimated at 700 million doses. And vaccine shipments to the continent have ground to a “near halt,” WHO said last week.
“It is extremely concerning and at times frustrating,” said Africa CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong, a Cameroonian virologist.
The United States and Britain, in contrast, have fully vaccinated more than 40% of their populations, with higher rates for adults and high-risk people.
Countries in Europe are near or past 20% coverage, and their citizens are starting to think about where their vaccine certificates might take them on their summer vacations.
In an interview, Nkengasong called on the leaders of wealthy nations meeting this week at the Group of Seven summit to share spare vaccines and avert a “moral catastrophe.”
“I’d like to believe that the G-7 countries, most of them having kept excess doses of vaccines, want to be on the right side of history,” Nkengasong said.
Others are not so patient, nor so diplomatic.
“People are dying. Time is against us. This IS INSANE,” South African human rights lawyer Fatima Hasan, an activist for equal access to health care, wrote in a series of text messages.