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Looming shortage of syringes to slow down Covid-19 vaccination

 A nurse administers a Covid-19 vaccine to a patient. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The ongoing vaccination against Covid-19 in Kenya and other low-income countries faces a hitch following a looming shortage of syringes.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) announced that there will be a shortage of up to 2.2 billion auto-dispensable Covid-19 vaccine syringes globally by next year.

“Without action now, the world could face a serious shortage of COVID vaccine syringes by the end of 2022, with potentially dire consequences for the global effort to bring the pandemic under control,” Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

This shortage would hit the type of syringes that lock automatically to prevent reuse, as required by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef guidelines.

According to Unicef, the shortage will hit the hardest low- and middle-income countries, where this type of syringe is critical for safety.

Unicef attributed the shortage to significantly higher demand, disruptions to international freight and supply chains, an unpredictable supply of vaccines due to a significant reliance on much needed donated doses and national bans on syringe exports.

The syringes are similar to those procured by Unicef for vaccination of children globally against six diseases – polio, measles, tuberculosis (TB), diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.

“Working closely with partners, UNICEF has been leading the charge. We tripled the number of syringes ordered to meet demand – securing almost three billion auto-disable syringes since 2020, including the creation of a GAVI-funded stockpile of half a billion syringes to prepare for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout,” said the statement.

As a mitigation, Unicef is working with key partners such as the United States, Covax, Path, donors, syringe manufacturers and others, to take necessary actions to address the situation as they monitor progress.

“We are working to get the most out of our existing arrangements and to sign new agreements with syringe suppliers that are able to step up to the challenge in 2022,” said Unicef.

The announcement comes at a time Kenya and other African countries have failed to meet targets of vaccinating at least 10 per cent of their populations, as set by WHO.

WHO is appealing for funding of Sh23.4 billion dollars from the world’s 20 biggest economies, to help create herd immunity.

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, underscored the need for more funding.

“In order to avert the likely effects of shortages of important commodities, WHO and other aid groups have called for additional funding towards the access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator programme,” said Dr Moeti.

Most African countries are lagging behind in achieving the 40 per cent vaccination targets set by WHO in May this year.

Less than five per cent of the African population are fully vaccinated, yet wealthy countries have started administering booster shots and vaccinating children.

The US Food and Drug Administration authorised Covid-19 vaccine for children aged between five and 11 years.

By yesterday, Kenya had administered about 5.3 million vaccine doses, with 3.6 million people partially vaccinated. Only 1.6 million Kenyans have been fully vaccinated.

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