While the West is reopening, the picture is very different in Africa. Only 8.2 per cent of Africa’s population is partially or fully vaccinated against Covid-19, compared to 68 per cent in the EU, 65 per cent in the US, and 55 per cent in Asia.
It’s worse when you break it down by country. Out of 54 African nations, only 15 – including Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa, Seychelles, and Mauritius – hit the goal of vaccinating 10 per cent or more of the population by September 30, as established by the World Health Assembly (WHA).
These success stories all involve small countries with small populations or countries wealthy enough to purchase extra doses rather than relying solely on COVAX, the global non-profit vaccine distribution organization.
The vast majority of the blame for Africa’s vaccine debacle is placed squarely on the lack of doses, but even if enough Covid-19 vaccine injections were on hand, there would still be huge ultra cold chain and distribution challenges that authorities and health organizations would need to contend with.
The primary obstacle is a lack of required doses
By the last day of September, the WHO had received 200 million Covid vaccine doses for Africa. That’s 70 million doses, nearly 25 per cent short of what’s needed to meet the 10 per cent vaccination goal.
Its end-of-year target of vaccinating 40 per cent of the population is also likely to be impossible since it seems there will be a shortfall of around 500 million doses by then.
The lack of supply is due to several factors. Wealthy countries were able to pay for doses early on, so even though vaccine production has now scaled up, the majority of doses are still being sent to countries that were first in line and are using them as booster doses.
Many governments are stockpiling doses, and some areas, like the EU, have export bans. Finally, Africa’s vaccination plan relied on doses from the Serum Institute of India, so that organization’s failure to keep up with commitments earlier this year was catastrophic.
But even when those doses do arrive, how will Africa’s hot climates and underdeveloped infrastructure comply with the strict condition requirements of the Covid vaccines?
Cold chain management makes the most of vaccine doses
With better cold chain management, public health organizations and government health services would be able to make better use of the doses they do receive, plus they’d be ready to scale up at the drop of a hat when more doses come through. This is where new tech like Logmore’s QR logger and Dry Ice logger can help. The small and durable hardware devices track every step of the vaccines’ journey, constantly monitoring temperature, humidity, shock, and more.
The codes can be read using any smartphone, removing the need for wired USB connections or complicated, expensive RFID computing systems, and work effectively for air freight to locations that are barely accessible by road, rail, or sea.
The Dry Ice logger keeps vaccine quality measurably dependable for longer, while reliable data means that healthcare workers who receive the vaccines can feel confident about how long they have to administer them before they expire. In this way, trustworthy cold chain management helps doses reach their destination in a usable condition.
Logistics can help compensate for scepticism
Vaccine supply is not just low, it’s also not steady, and this uncertainty compounds the problem. Governments trumpet their commitment to donating doses but are slow to follow through. Out of the one billion-plus doses pledged by G7 and EU countries, under 15 per cent have been delivered so far.
As Dr. Richard Mihigo, Immunization and Vaccines Development Programme Coordinator for the WHO Regional Office for Africa, says, “Shipments are increasing but opaque delivery plans are still the number one nuisance that holds Africa back.”
The lack of clarity around the arrival of more doses makes it hard to set up a steady, ongoing logistics system that would include regular flights from a central hub and truck and train shipments leaving regional hubs. If there was a fixed schedule, healthcare workers would know they will be needed on a specific day in a specific place and could ensure that all the resources, such as vials, needles, and sterilizing swabs, are available too.
“We need a more steady, ongoing supply—not the start-stop, which we’ve seen,” adds Jens Pedersen, humanitarian adviser for Médecins Sans Frontières in South Africa. The good news is that an improved cold chain could also help with this unpredictable supply.
Without effective logistics, Africa could have ‘too many’ doses
The need for predictability is emphasized by the fact that large dumps of doses can overwhelm fragile logistics, creating the problem of “too much” vaccine.
Because of Africa’s poor transportation infrastructure, sending so many doses to their destination can take too long, and intermittent electricity makes it difficult to store vaccines at the low temperatures that extend their shelf life until they can be shipped onwards.
As a result, many doses expire before they move beyond the continental hub. Disrupted connectivity precludes the digital connections needed to track vaccine progress and verify their temperature and other storage conditions along the way. Moreso, it’s necessary to prepare healthcare workers and vaccination sites before the doses arrive, and inform local populations about when and where to come to get their shots.
Better cold chain logistics helps doses reach their destination with more time on the clock before they expire, allowing time for everyone and everything to be organized to administer the vaccines as planned.
Improved cold chain cuts vaccine wastage
Sometimes, doses are donated close to the end of their shelf life, so they need to be used swiftly before they expire, again requiring better logistics. For example, the Palestinian Authority refused vaccine doses that it said were close to expiry and couldn’t be administered in time. But South Korea took 700,000 such doses in a swap because their advanced infrastructure meant they could inject them before they expired.
Helping governments administer vaccines before they spoil prevents them from needing to return doses due to fear that they won’t meet the deadline. This in turn helps combat vaccine hesitancy, as people who saw doses returned for any reason lose faith in vaccine safety and returned doses allow space for conspiracy theories to grow.
Providing reliable data about vaccine conditions raises the chances that the healthcare system will feel confident about its ability to administer vaccines within the time available, reducing vaccine wastage.
Africa needs better logistics as well as more vaccine doses
Africa requires far more doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to meet inoculation targets, but even when the required doses are available, there are still challenges to overcome. A better cold chain can help African healthcare systems get healthcare workers and resources in place to administer a sudden increase in doses, boost confidence in vaccine safety, and prevent vaccine wastage by increasing vaccine shelf life.