There is still a debate about the African continent’s preparedness to administer the Covid-19 vaccine expected by mid-2021. The effective vaccines require deep refrigeration systems, which most African countries, like Malawi, have an inadequate supply of.
Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which have registered a more than 90 percent success rate, need storage under minus 80 and minus 20 degrees Celsius, respectively.
The focus on Malawi is due to the World Bank naming the country as one of the world’s poorest countries. Despite this fact, the country, among other underdeveloped countries, will have to compete with the developed nations for doses of the vaccines.
Despite Malawi having a strong vaccine program referred to as the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it is not satisfactory.
In a report published in Nature, a science journal, the Director of Africa CDC says that the already existing vaccine programs are mostly for children.
The representative for the World Health Organization in Malawi, Dr. Nonhlanhla Rosemary Dlamini, has acknowledged most African countries, including Malawi, lack the necessary refrigerating equipment. However, she still is optimistic that a vaccine that requires less sophisticated machines may be brought to the continent.
“The kind of equipment that many countries have, including Malawi, is not that ultra-cold chain kind of equipment. As we are doing our assessment we look at that, but we still do not know what kind of vaccine is going to come into the country,” she said.
On the other hand, the Malawian Principal Secretary for Health, Dr. Charles Mwansambo, believes that other substitute vaccines such as the Oxford Astrazeneca are more preferable provided they are improved.
Mwansambo mentioned that the Malawian state was ready to receive the substitute vaccine if it’s upgraded from the current seventy-five percent effectiveness. He cited that Malawi has infrastructures already in place in all regions. Besides, he said that the country has storage facilities in warehouses that can keep the vaccine.
Dr. Mwansambo is also optimistic that there will be a reliable power supply in Malawi for the vaccination to go on as planned. The Secretary for Health mentioned that power supply was a problem in the implementation of previous vaccination programs. However, in the past two months, the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) has done away with blackouts.
Scope of the Vaccination
Africa CDC says that the continent needs to vaccinate 60 percent of its population to meet the herd immunity threshold. This translates to about 1.5 billion doses of vaccine. Moreover, the vaccine and building structures to administer the vaccine will be between seven and ten billion US dollars.
Dr. Mwansambo has said that Malawi is underway in getting the first twenty percent to be administered the vaccine. The government has set up a committee to deliberate on the same.
Dr. Dlamini says, according to WHO guidance, the first 20 percent should include front line health workers who comprise doctors, nurses, hospital cleaners, physiotherapists, and any other front line health worker at risk. Other people who will constitute the first 20 percent are the elderly, people with chronic illness, and comorbidities.