What you need to know:
- WHO is of the view that this decline in effectiveness is due to sub-optimal planning and preparations especially at the sub-national levels.
- Vaccine hesitancy and a low-risk perception of the pandemic, notably with the recent decline in cases, are also dampening uptake.
Analysis by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that Covid-19 vaccination coverage has stagnated in half of African countries while the number of doses administered monthly declined by over 50 per cent between July and September this year.
According to the global health regulator, although Africa is far from reaching the year-end global target of protecting 70 per cent of the population, modest progress has been made in vaccinating high-risk population groups, particularly the elderly.
“The WHO analysis shows that the percentage of people with complete primary vaccination series (one dose for Johnson and Johnson and two doses for other vaccines) has barely budged in 27 out of 54 African countries in the past two months (17 August – 16 October 2022).
In addition, in September 23 million doses were given, 18 per cent less than the number registered in August, and 51 per cent less than the 47 million doses administered in July.
The number of doses provided last month is also about a one third of the peak of the 63 million doses reached in February 2022, the official report highlights while, however, observing that there were signs of improvement in October with 22 million doses given as of 16 October 2022, which is 95 per cent of the total administered in September.
As of 16 October 2022, just 24 per cent of the continent’s population had completed their primary vaccination series compared with the coverage of 64 per cent at the global level.
“Liberia has now joined Mauritius and Seychelles as one of three countries to surpass 70 per cent of people with full vaccination coverage. Rwanda is on the verge of achieving this milestone as well. Other small signs of progress are that the number of countries with less than 10 per cent of people completing their primary series has dropped from 26 in December 2021 to five now,” the regulator notes while explaining that despite these achievements, at the current pace of vaccination, Africa is expected to meet the global target of 70 percent of people with complete primary vaccination series by April 2025.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, assured that the end of the coronavirus pandemic is within sight.
“But as long as Africa lags far behind the rest of the world in reaching widespread protection, there is a dangerous gap which the virus can exploit to come roaring back. The biggest priority is to shield our most vulnerable populations from the worst effects of Covid-19. On this front, we are seeing some progress as countries step up efforts to boost coverage among health workers, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems,” she said.
As per data from 31 countries in the region, 40 per cent of African health workers had completed their primary series by October 16, 2022.
“This latest data uses country estimates of population size instead of previous figures that used International Labour Organization estimates of the health workforce.
In 15 of these countries, more than 70 per cent of health workers have been fully vaccinated compared with 27 per cent at the beginning of the year.
“Thirty-one per cent of older adults (between 50 and 65 years and older depending on country set age limits) have been fully vaccinated according to data from 27 countries, an increase from 21 per cent in January 2022,” WHO further discloses and adds that while difficult access to doses undermined vaccination efforts in 2021, these issues have been largely resolved, with countries on average receiving 67 doses per 100 people compared with 34 doses per 100 people at the end 2021 and 13 doses per 100 at the end September 2021. “The continent has received 936 million vaccine doses, 62 per cent of which came from the COVAX Facility.”
“After a bumpy start, the COVAX partnership has assured a steady pipeline of Covid-19 vaccines to Africa,” Dr Moeti said.
“Now, we are a victim of our own success. As vaccines have helped bring the number of infections down, people no longer fear Covid-19 and so few are willing to get vaccinated.”
The WHO Africa region director points out that mass vaccination campaigns have been instrumental in boosting Covid-19 vaccine coverage, contributing to 85 per cent of total doses administered in the African region though in the past few months the number of people vaccinated has dropped significantly while the operational costs per person keeps increasing.
WHO is of the view that this decline in effectiveness is due to sub-optimal planning and preparations especially at the sub-national levels.
“Covid-19 vaccination campaigns are quick operations and are only effective with good planning. I urge countries to make our goal of reaching every district a reality by improving preparations for vaccination campaigns,” Dr Moeti asked of African governments.
The global health regulator revealed that vaccine hesitancy and a low-risk perception of the pandemic, notably with the recent decline in cases, are also dampening uptake.
“Over the past 12 weeks, Africa has recorded the lowest case numbers since the start of the pandemic. In the week ending on October 16, 4,281 new cases were reported, representing 1.3 per cent of the peak of the Omicron-fuelled surge reached in December 2021. No country is currently in resurgence or on high alert and deaths remain low across the region, with a case fatality rate of 2.1 per cent,” experts noted while making it known that the response to multiple public health emergencies is also affecting Covid-19 vaccine rollout outbreaks of polio, measles, yellow fever and now Ebola shift priorities in the affected countries.
“To assist countries intensify vaccination efforts, WHO in Africa has embarked on a raft of measures including supporting countries to assess the preparedness for vaccination campaigns at provincial and district levels, track vaccination among priority groups, carry out high-level advocacy to boost uptake, help countries integrate COVID-19 vaccines in other planned mass vaccination campaigns as well as deploy surge missions to countries to improve quality of vaccination drives,” WHO highlighted.