African countries call for more vaccines as Covax scheme rolled out

Sierra Leone’s president urges leaders to persuade their citizens to get Covid-19 jab

Sierra Leone’s president Julius Maada Bio receives the Covid-19 vaccine  at the State House in Freetown on Monday. Photograph: Sally Hayden

Sierra Leone’s president Julius Maada Bio receives the Covid-19 vaccine at the State House in Freetown on Monday. Photograph: Sally Hayden


More than half of African countries have now received Covid-19 vaccines, through a mixture of direct donations from countries such as China, Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and deliveries through the World Health Organisation’s Covax scheme.

Healthcare workers, African governments and humanitarian organisations continue to call on rich countries to aid with vaccine provision, saying that many more are needed.

On Monday, Sierra Leone launched its vaccination programme with an event at the State House in the capital, Freetown. President Julius Maada Bio was the first citizen to get the injection. He called on other political leaders to lead by example and prove to their people that the vaccines were safe.

Sierra Leone, which has a population of about 8 million, has so far received 200,000 SinoPharm vaccines, as a donation from China, and 96,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines through the Covax scheme.

Irish ambassador

Present at the launch was Irish ambassador Lesley Ní Bhriain, who said the country’s initial response was very proactive in terms of closing the airport and encouraging prevention strategies, but the vaccination programme will bring a better level of security.

“It’s important here because the health system is very fragile,” Ms Ní Bhriain said. “Being able to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers means they at least have some protection. The chances of surviving here [if you get Covid-19] are much lower compared even to a middle-income country.”

When the pandemic began, Ms Ní Bhriain said, there were just two ventilators in Sierra Leone. “There isn’t a reliable power supply. There aren’t a sufficient number of healthcare workers paid to care for somebody.”

Ireland has allocated €5 million to the international vaccine response for 2021.

As of March 12th, Covax had delivered more than 14.6 million vaccine doses to 23 African countries.

There have now been more than 4 million confirmed coronavirus cases across the African continent, and 108,064 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these, more than 1.5 million confirmed cases and nearly half of the continent’s deaths were in South Africa.

Limited testing capacity

Some of the low figures elsewhere are believed to be a result of a limited testing capacity, but researchers have also theorised that there could be a variety of reasons the disease has not affected the continent as badly as was anticipated, including youthful populations, lifestyle differences and previous experience dealing with outbreaks of disease.

While border closures, curfews and other measures slowed the spread of Covid-19, the economic impact has been devastating for many Africans.

“We need global solidarity and vaccine justice for Africa,” said the president of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, speaking at the launch of the African Economic Outlook 2021 report last week.

According to analysis by the International Rescue Committee, surplus vaccines bought by the UK, EU and US could vaccinate everyone above the age of 16 in the 20 countries they have identified as being most at risk of a major new humanitarian crisis in the coming year.

That includes Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.