India's decision to slow coronavirus vaccine exports will make it difficult for Africa to hit its year-end vaccination goal, the head of the continent's disease control body said Thursday.
Dubbed the "pharmacy of the world," India announced last week it was putting the brakes on exporting Covid-19 vaccines as it battled a new wave of infections and a faltering inoculation drive at home.
Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs produced by the Serum Institute of India represent the "backbone" of Africa's own vaccination campaign, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told a press conference Thursday.
The majority of the continent's doses have so far come from the Covax scheme, which aims to provide equitable access around the world and particularly in poorer countries.
"If those are delayed then we are unlikely to meet our targets," Nkengasong said, referring to a goal of vaccinating around 30 percent of people in the African Union's 55 member states by the end of 2021.
"If the delay continues -- and I really want to deliberately hope that it is a delay, not a ban, because that would be catastrophic if that was the case -- then meeting our vaccination schedule becomes problematic, very very problematic."
Earlier this week Johnson & Johnson announced it would make up to 400 million doses of its own single-shot vaccine available to Africa, though the first shipments are not expected to arrive until the third quarter of 2021.
African countries have so far received over 29.1 million vaccine doses and administered 10.3 million, focusing on healthcare workers, the elderly and people with comorbidities, Nkengasong said.
Though Africa was not hit as hard as experts feared during the first year of the pandemic, some countries are in the middle of sharp upticks, including Kenya which has seen a 53-percent average weekly increase in cases over the past month.
Kenya's vaccine drive has been chaotic, with widespread hesitancy from healthcare workers, while some centres have run out of jabs and many who do not currently qualify have shown up and been given the shot.
Meanwhile the Russian vaccine Sputnik V has been privately imported and is being sold for around $70 (59 euros) for two doses to wealthy Kenyans.
Nkengasong also voiced concern Thursday about a new highly mutated variant recently identified in people travelling from Tanzania to Angola.
Tanzania's Covid-sceptic president John Magufuli died last month, and Nkengasong said Africa CDC officials are "using different channels" to engage with the administration of his successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan.