With high prior rate of infection and apathy, demand is dwindling for jabs on the continent 

The signing of a licensing deal late last year for South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare to bottle and sell the Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine across Africa was hailed as a lifeline for a continent that lost out in the rush for jabs early in the pandemic. But six months later, the factory is on the brink of closure because of lack of demand. Asked if she will get a booster shot after receiving two Pfizer jabs last year, 70-year-old Agnes Mohale could not see the point. “I don’t know what it’s for,” said the pensioner who lives in Johannesburg’s biggest township, Soweto. “I won’t go for a third one. I’m not worried.”  Mohale’s reluctance to seek extra protection reflects faltering demand in South Africa, where only 5 per cent of people have received a booster shot and just under a third of the 60mn population are double vaccinated. It is part of a broader trend across Africa that helps to explain why the future of the continent’s biggest vaccine manufacturing plant is in doubt.

The death toll from Covid-19 has been lower across Africa than other continents. Africa has accounted for just 8.3 per cent of the world’s 14.9mn excess deaths during the pandemic, according to a World Health Organization analysis, despite having 16.7 per cent of the global population. Some experts say the low death rate could be due to Africa being the youngest continent, with a median age of 19.7 against 42.5 in Europe. The resulting reluctance to get jabs — and poor health infrastructure — means Africa could continue to be blighted by the disease long after Covid has become endemic elsewhere and give rise to more potent new variants, experts say. Meanwhile, the possible loss of local vaccine production could leave the continent ill prepared for future diseases.

“This lack of momentum on vaccinations is affecting our dynamic state of readiness for the next variant or the next viral threat,” said Dr Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance. “It is endangering the local and regional vaccine production efforts that have popped up . . . to ensure we don’t return to the stage zero of the pandemic.” The struggle to remain commercially viable does not bode well for efforts to build up vaccine production. At the onset of the Covid pandemic, there were just four African countries with vaccine manufacturing capacity: South Africa, Egypt, Senegal and Tunisia. Now, there are 15 African nations with vaccine manufacturing projects in the works. Read More.