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Delays in deliveries of Indian-made AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine could be ‘catastrophic’, African Union’s health boss warns

Delays in deliveries of Indian-made AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine could be ‘catastrophic’, African Union’s health boss warns
India’s decision to postpone major exports of locally made AstraZeneca jab could have a “catastrophic” impact on Africa, a top health official has warned, expressing hope the delays won’t turn into a permanent ban.

Speaking during a press conference in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa on Thursday, the chief of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, raised concerns over the delays.

Insufficient deliveries of AstraZeneca’s jab, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), are expected to disrupt the African Union’s (AU) vaccination plans, the official said. While the AU has been eyeing a goal of vaccinating around 30-35% of the continent’s population by year-end, the countries are now “unlikely to meet our target.”

Further delays would mean the continent will face consequences more grave than a mere missed target, Nkengasong warned, adding: “If the delay continues, I hope it’s a delay and not a ban; that would be catastrophic for meeting our vaccinations schedule.”

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African countries have reported some 4.25 million cases of coronavirus combined, including over 110,000 deaths. Real figures, however, might be considerably higher given the insufficient testing experienced by many nations across the continent.

While the AU has been in active talks with other manufacturers to procure vaccines elsewhere, the Indian-made AstraZeneca shot remains its main tool to combat the pandemic – even despite concerns over its effectiveness against the more contagious South African strain. On Monday, Johnson & Johnson announced it would supply the AU with up to 400 million doses of its single-shot jab, yet the deliveries are expected to begin en-masse only in the third quarter of this year and continue throughout 2022.

India announced the impending delays of vaccine deliveries last week, explaining it had to prioritize the local market to combat a new coronavirus wave that has hit the country.

“In the coming weeks and months... obviously there will be a demand spike, and obviously people are preparing for it,” said Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister.

In many cases, we have told our international partners that... COVID rates are going up in India, we are expanding our own vaccination ambit, so we are sure you will understand that at this time we have to purpose it much more focused at where we are.

India ranks third globally among those countries worst-hit by the coronavirus, with its numbers dwarfed only by those of the US and Brazil. Since the beginning of the pandemic, India has reported more than 12.2 million cases, including over 162,000 deaths.

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On Thursday, New Delhi launched its biggest push so far against Covid-19, expanding the vaccination program to people aged 45 and above, as well as individuals with serious health conditions. Before April, the vaccinations had been set aside only to be given to people aged over 60, as well as to frontline health workers.

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