Africa is receiving a crucial boost with the arrival of more vaccines through COVAX, a vaccine procurement platform led by the World Health Organization for lower-income nations.
On Friday, the WHO said new infections of COVID-19 in Africa had declined for five weeks, and then plateaued over the past three weeks at around 70,000 a week. But for the past week, there has been a slight uptick in 12 countries, including Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Cameroon.
So far, 10 African countries have started vaccinations with COVAX-funded vaccines, while 10 others have been using jabs sourced from elsewhere, including through donations. More than 518,000 doses of COVAX-supplied vaccines have been administered across the continent.
At a virtual news conference on Friday, Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said vaccine deliveries are picking up speed.
She said more than 14.6 million vaccine doses have been delivered to 22 African countries since Feb 24 through the COVAX initiative.
"Every new COVID-19 vaccine delivery to Africa is a step towards equity and ensuring we get our lives and livelihoods back," she said.
"However, doses will remain limited and it's critical that frontline health workers and other priority groups are at the front of the queue.
"Health workers deserve protection because without their pivotal role, efforts against the pandemic can go only so far."
Healthcare workers first
Most of the vaccines being administered are going to frontline workers, especially those in healthcare.
According to the WHO, more than 100,000 health workers have contracted COVID-19 in Africa, and infections in their ranks account for 3.5 percent of the total number of cases in the region.
"The pandemic has nearly knocked loose the linchpin of the health systems in many countries," Moeti said.
"We must further protect and equip our health workers to effectively contribute to the efforts to contain COVID-19. Everyone's wellbeing is at stake without an adequately supported health workforce."
Somalia, a beneficiary of COVAX, on Monday received a first shipment of 300,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The health ministry said the first shipment will target frontline workers, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions.
"The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines is happening at a critical time as Somalia is now experiencing a new wave of the epidemic," Fawziya Abikar Nur, minister of health and human services, said in a statement in Mogadishu.
The minister said the government has secured enough vaccines from the COVAX facility to vaccinate at least 20 percent of the population in the East African nation.
The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the continent has recorded 4,005,204 COVID-19 infections as of Monday.