Volunteer Thabisle Khlatshwayo, who received her first shot for a COVID-19 vaccine study, receives her second shot at a vaccine testing facility at the Chris Sani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto outside of Johannesburg, South Africa on Monday, November 30, 2020 2000 South African volunteers take part in AstraZeneca’s experimental coronavirus vaccine study. (AP Photo / Jerome Delay)

According to Africa’s leading health agency, 60% of the continent’s population will need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in the next two to three years.

The director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention John Nkengasong told reporters Thursday that the virus will be endemic in our communities if it takes four to five years.

African health officials are excited to see the progress of vaccination, but concerns are growing that the continent is nearing the end of doses of 1.3 billion people. Nkengasong is unsure if vaccines will be available in Africa before the second quarter of next year.

But he’s pushing back against fears and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, saying, “If I took a flight to the UK today and got this vaccine, I would do it now.” He was referring to Britain’s go-ahead for the emergency use of the vaccine developed by American drug maker Pfizer and German BioNTech.

According to Nkengasong, the 60% vaccination goal is required to achieve herd immunity in the 54 African countries.

Stressing the challenges ahead, he said “the entire continent has never vaccinated 200 million people in a year,” an indication of the goal of reaching around 20% of the population by the end of 2021.

Official: Africa needs 60% COVID-19 vaccine in 2-3 years

Volunteer Thabisle Khlatshwayo, who received her first shot for a COVID-19 vaccine study, will be tested before her second shot at a vaccine testing facility at the Chris Sani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Monday, Jan. November 2020, receives 2000 South African volunteers to take part in AstraZeneca’s experimental coronavirus vaccine study. (AP Photo / Jerome Delay)

Nkengasong also vowed that “no below standard vaccines are used in Africa”. The continent couldn’t afford to get country-specific regulatory approval, he said, estimating it would take five years or more. Instead, the Africa CDC provides a platform for national regulators to agree on a mechanism to approve vaccines arriving on the continent, he said.

“We’re stronger when we’re together,” he added when a handful of African countries began to have doses of vaccine for their own citizens outside of the global initiative aimed at fair vaccine distribution called COVAX. “If we disperse as a continent, our overall strategy will suffer.”

The African continent now has nearly 2.2 million confirmed virus cases, or about 3.5% of the global total, as health officials in some countries warn of signs of a second surge.

“The next two months are crucial as the entire continent enters the holiday season,” said Nkengasong, which means more travel from urban to rural areas. “I’m afraid we will peak in the months ahead, probably the same peak as we did in July or August.”

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