July 16, 2021

Ethiopia struggles to administer second doses of Covid-19 vaccine

City: Addis AbabaHealthCOVID 19Analysis

Ethiopia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been based around a strategy of administering injections to health workers, the elderly, and vulnerable people

Avatar: Hagos Gebreamlak
By Hagos Gebreamlak

A fact-checker at HaqCheck, he has worked for Fortune as a reporter previously.

Ethiopia struggles to administer second doses of Covid-19 vaccine

Ethiopia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been based around a strategy of administering injections to frontline health workers, the elderly, and vulnerable people. The program was launched on March 23 2021 and so far just over two million out of a population of 112 million has received a dose. 

The pandemic has drastically changed existing healthcare and socio-economic systems. As of July 2021, the plague has killed more than 4.04M people worldwide while over 187 million people have contracted the virus.

Countries have declared lockdowns and taken restrictive measures to curb the speedy transmission of the coronavirus. Transportation of people and commodities has been impacted. Global trade routes have been disrupted with import-dependent countries such as Ethiopia suffering from a severe shortage of supplies of goods and medicines.

The fragile health system of Ethiopia has buckled under the strain. More than 277,212 coronavirus cases and 4,347 deaths have been registered in the country so far.

But for Ethiopians, the vaccine rollout is also going incredibly slowly, particularly when it comes to administering second doses which offer far better protection against mutations such as the Delta variant that is currently sweeping Europe.

A number of COVID-19 vaccines are now on the market. On December 2, 2020, the Pfizer vaccine was authorized in Great Britain less than a year after the outbreak was officially recorded in Wuhan, China. The news was greeted at the time with joy throughout the world. Thereafter, many vaccines have been approved and rolled out for emergency use.

There are so far 19 COVID-19 vaccines that were developed independently by various corporations like Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Sputnik, and which have been authorized by national regulatory agencies for public usage. The World Health Organization (WHO) is also evaluating many other vaccines.

Countries around the world have been scrambling to procure as many  COVID-19 vaccines as they can. This has ushered in a new era of vaccine nationalism. 

More than 3.4 billion vaccine doses have been given globally. Developed nations such as Israel, the USA, Britain, Sweden are on the path to fully vaccinate (second shot) most of their citizens.

Multiple promises have been made by developed countries to give COVID-19 vaccines to so-called poorer countries. UNICEF pledged to donate up to 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to African Union member states by the end of 2022. The Group of Seven industrialized nations last month announced that they will provide one billion vaccine doses to poor countries with the 500 million coming from the US and 100 million doses from the United Kingdom.

Ethiopia received its doses through the COVAX Initiative by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Ministry of Health stated that the first doses were to be given to health and essential workers, and other at-risk groups.

The vaccine that Ethiopia managed to get access to is AstraZeneca shots produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII). The procurement and shipment of the first COVID-19 vaccine doses were made by Covax, a WHO initiative that aims to give equitable vaccine access to countries around the world.

In addition to AstraZeneca, Ethiopia has approved the use of a COVID-19 vaccine produced by the China National Pharmaceutical Group Corporation (Sinopharm), a Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical enterprise.

The country has planned to administer 20 million doses of vaccine until November 2021.

Ethiopia is far behind in getting supplies of COVID-19 vaccines. The people who have received their first dose of the vaccine, 2.064 million, so far amounts to less than 2% of the population.

Yet the country is one of the top five in Africa which has the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases.

The vaccines should be given within a two- to 12-week interval depending on the type of the vaccine. This means countries must procure a huge amount of doses to eliminate or significantly prevent the spread of the pandemic.

It is incredibly tough for developing countries like Ethiopia to supply sufficient doses within this interval. Most developed countries have offered a second shot to their people. Israel, UAE, and Bahrain gave the third dose last week. Sweden and the UK are also preparing to offer a booster shot (third dose) as well.

Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, and Nigeria have respectively given at least one dose of the vaccine to 28.4%, 6.5%, 3.6%, and 1.2% of their people. Additionally, Morocco (25.3%), South Africa (2.3%), Egypt (1.0%), and Nigeria (0.7%) have had their total populations fully vaccinated.

It is now the 15th week since Ethiopia gave the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to citizens in mid-March. The country has recently started a second shot and around 42,000 people (0.37%) have received the second dose, Lia Tadesse (Ph.D.), Minister of Health said on July 13, 2021, in a press briefing. She said that a further 400,000 AstraZeneca doses had been imported a few days ago. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done by the Ethiopian government to catch up on its second-dose program.