The head of the agency leading Africa’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has said he owes his life to the vaccine after he caught the virus.
Dr John Nkengasong said he was fully vaccinated but was infected last week and had severe symptoms.
“I want to be very clear without [the vaccine] I wouldn’t be here,” he said at a weekly briefing announcing the deployment of recently acquired jabs.
There have been concerns about low vaccinations rates on the continent.
Less than 2% of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated.
Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Dr Nkengasong, who heads the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said he was still “struggling with Covid”.
“Perhaps the only reason I’m here with you this morning is because I had my vaccine in April.
“If I hadn’t had those vaccines… I can assure you that it would have been over for me by now.
“I want to be very clear without that I wouldn’t be here, because even with the breakthrough infection the severity of the attack is so unbearable, I mean the headaches, the fevers… every part of your body is basically affected. “
African leaders have blamed the slow rollout on “vaccine nationalism” saying that rich countries have been buying up and hoarding doses.
The continent had been relying on Covax – the global initiative to acquire vaccines for poorer countries – but it has been beset by delays, a situation that led to African countries in March to seek vaccine supplies using a new initiative.
On Thursday, Dr Nkengasong announced the beginning of the distribution of 400 million Johnson & Johnson (J&J) jabs acquired through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.
The AU said it settled on the J&J vaccine because it is a single-shot, has a long shelf-life and had favourable storage conditions. It added that the vaccine being partly manufactured on the continent – in South Africa, played a part.
Africa CDC said the 400 million batch is enough to immunise a third of the continent’s population and bring Africa halfway towards the goal of vaccinating at least 60% of the continent’s population.
Dr Nkengasong said the acquired doses would help save “400 million lives…just as the vaccines have saved my life.”