(Bloomberg) -- A record number of people died from the coronavirus this week in Africa, where the authorities began the rollout of 400 million vaccines to contain the spread of the disease.
More than 6,400 people succumbed to Covid-19, while new infections rose by almost a fifth, Phionah Atuhebwe, the World Health Organization’s new vaccines introductory officer, said in an online briefing Thursday. The number of vaccines delivered to African nations jumped 12-fold in the last two weeks of July, compared with the previous fortnight, bringing the total number of shots delivered to 91 million, she said.
“We need to be clear though that in a continent of over 1.3 billion people, this is a just a tiny drop in a very large ocean,” Atuhebwe said. “In the face of a surging third wave and a more contagious variant, vaccine shortages leave Africa dangerously exposed. We have a very long way to go.”
The African Union announced separately that it has begun monthly shipments of Covid-19 vaccines acquired under an agreement with Johnson & Johnson. The continental body signed an accord in March to acquire 220 million doses of the J&J shots, with the potential to order an additional 180 million doses.
“This will provide impetus to the fight against Covid-19 across the continent and will lay the basis for Africa’s social and economic recovery,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the AU’s so-called Covid-19 Champion, said in a statement.
The WHO called for a greater effort to encourage people to take the vaccine on a continent where only 1.6% of the population has been fully inoculated. That compares with rates of 51% in the European Union and 50% in the U.S.
READ: More Than 4.27 Billion Shots Given: Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker
“If the demand doesn’t increase, what’s sure is that the disease will spread very quickly and we will have lots of hospitalizations and deaths,” Gilson Paluku, the WHO’s Routine Immunization and New Vaccines Introduction Officer in Africa, said on the briefing. “The indirect consequence, if consumption doesn’t increase, is the fact that the virus will circulate for a long time and develop lots of new variants with the risk that these new variants escape the vaccines that are already on the market.”
Health authorities in Africa plan to vaccinate 30% of the continent’s inhabitants by the end of 2021, according to the WHO.
Vaccine hesitancy rates are expected to decline as deliveries of the shots increase, said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention. Rates of uptake are already increasing in countries including Senegal, Botswana and Malawi, he said.
“All we needed in Africa was a stable vaccine delivery,” he said. “As that is changing, I believe vaccine hesitancy will change. As people see loved ones dying and vaccines helping, that will change I have no doubt at all.”
CDC officials plan to visit Burundi and Eritrea unless there is progress in those nations on the use of vaccines. Eritrea is the only African nation that’s resisting the inoculations.
READ: Burundi Capitulates on Vaccines, Leaving One Holdout in Africa
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