Nairobi — Concerns about the omicron COVID-19 variant are growing in Africa but health experts say vaccination can help reduce infections in the population.
This week has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in Africa due to the new omicron variant. The continent reported 52,000 cases for the week, and 31,000 were reported in South Africa.
Speaking at a virtual press briefing Thursday, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called for African countries to work together to deal with the new variant and the pandemic.
"What we need to do going forward is to have a coordinated approach for managing these variants because we know that there will be another variant and we know we will deal with this variant for sure," said Nkengasong. "There is a lot we don't know about the variant, no need to panic. We just need to be patient and understand this variant. I know we are not helpless today. We flooded many tools on the battlefield against the virus as a whole. It's still the same COVID."
Moses Masika, a Nairobi-based virologist, says the continent will continue to suffer until most of the population is vaccinated.
"Regardless of the new variant omicron, the situation was still equally bad because we have delta [variant] across the continent and the entire globe and the majority of the people in Africa are susceptible to this infection because the vaccination level is so low is less than 10% or 1 in 10 people have received at least a single dose of the vaccine so that means many people are susceptible they can get infected," said Masika.
Masika blames the lack of vaccines for poor vaccination levels in Africa.
"The infrastructure in many places is not that bad. It's decent enough but right now, there is nothing to distribute to many of these facilities," said Masika. "Governments like ours have opted to keep the vaccine in larger centers where people can go because if they were to distribute it to all health centers there would not be enough to cover everybody and give them two doses. But I think our biggest challenge is still supply. If the supply side is sorted, then the vaccine can be taken much closer to the people."
Africa needs at least 2.2 billion doses.
Africa CDC says 54 countries have procured 417.5 million vaccines.
The Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team has distributed 22.4 million vaccine doses.
Later this month, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will convene a meeting with the continent's health ministers to develop ways to make people take the vaccines available in their countries.