Africa begins vaccines, skeptical Tanzania told to trust science

Africa begins vaccines, skeptical Tanzania told to trust science

CROSSROADS. Health workers chat near an ambulance at the parking lot of the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, amid a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, in Pretoria, South Africa, on January 11, 2021.

File photo by Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

John Nkengasong, director of the African Union's disease control and prevention body, says a few countries have begun vaccinating: Morocco, Egypt, Seychelles, and Guinea

Some African nations have begun administering vaccines against COVID-19, regional health officials said on Thursday, January 28, though Tanzania’s dissenting president was singled out for his trust in alternative remedies and God.

John Nkengasong, director of the African Union (AU) bloc’s disease control and prevention body, said a few countries had begun vaccinating: Morocco, Egypt, Seychelles, and Guinea.

“Guinea is very limited, just about 50 to 60 vaccinations have occurred. But these other countries have started mainly with the vaccine from China,” he told an online briefing.

In addition to 270 million doses previously secured, the AU has signed an agreement with India’s Serum Institute for 400 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Remember, this is spread over this year and to next year,” added Nkengasong, whose Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not yet given allocation details. Health bodies hope to vaccinate about 30-35% of Africans this year.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli is exasperating health workers by discouraging mask-wearing and social distancing, warning that vaccines are dangerous and failing to publish coronavirus data since mid-2020.

On Wednesday, January 27, Magufuli said, without evidence, that vaccines were a foreign plot to spread illness and steal Africa’s wealth. He urged Tanzanians instead to trust God and use alternative remedies such as steam inhalation.

His government has not published nationwide figures since May 8, when it had 509 cases and 21 deaths.

‘Beyond Satan’

“We in Tanzania managed to stay for a year without corona. Even here, no one has put on a mask. Our God is beyond Satan and Satan will always fail using different diseases,” he said in Wednesday’s speech in his western home area.

Previously, Magufuli has also scoffed at imported testing kits, saying they returned positive results on a goat and fruit.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Africa director Matshidiso Moeti responded by urging Tanzania to implement mask-wearing and other measures, prepare vaccinations and share data.

“Africa is at a crossroads and all Africans must double down on preventive measures,” she told an online news conference, saying WHO officials were in touch with Tanzanian officials. “Science shows that vaccines work.”

Though COVID-19 has not hit Africa as badly as other regions, experts fear wealth disparities, logistical difficulties and “vaccine nationalism” by developed nations may put the world’s poorest continent at a disadvantage.

With a population of 1.3 billion people, Africa has reported 3.5 million infections and 88,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally. That is fewer fatalities than individual nations the United States, Brazil, India, Mexico and Britain.

Nkesangong said the Africa CDC was reaching out to China, Russia and Cuba to explore obtaining more vaccines, and would work with any partner whose vaccine was safe and effective. –

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