There could be several other reasons for the slow uptake of Covid-19 vaccines in countries like Kenya and “vaccine hesitancy” is convenient theory, a new report says.
The report, Mapping Covid-19 Vaccine Access Gaps, was produced by global health consultancy firm Matahari Global Solutions, International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) and People’s Vaccine Alliance and highlighted several impediments.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance cited “systemic racism” or outright discrimination in areas such as healthcare, and in this case, the supply of Covid-19 vaccines. Other barriers cited in the report are inaccessible testing sites, limited vaccine supplies, minimal or no access to antiviral treatments, misinformation, colonial oppression and racist medical experimentation, bungled oxygen supplies and lack of pay for healthcare workers.
“This report shows that communities have repeatedly been let down by a system geared towards protecting people in wealthy countries. People in the Global South have been abandoned. Their lives have been treated as an afterthought,” said Maaza Seyoum, Global South convener for the People’s Vaccine Alliance.
“Local populations are expected to shoulder blame and be grateful for what vaccines they do receive, when there has been little effort to meet their needs. It is yet more evidence of the systemic racism that has plagued the global response to Covid-19,” she added.
These findings contradict claims made by some scientists and pharmaceutical companies about slow uptake of Covid-19 vaccines.
“Throughout this pandemic, low vaccination rates in lower-income countries have been conveniently dismissed as the result of ‘vaccine hesitancy’. Our report finds this allegation to be false,” said Dr Fifa Rahman, principal consultant at Matahari Global Solutions.
Litany of barriers
“People face a litany of barriers to accessing Covid-19 vaccines and treatments – from undersupply of vaccines and treatments to underfunding of health systems and poor adaptation to local needs. These are issues of equity.”
The findings are based on information from 14 countries in the Global South that had not reached a vaccination rate of 10 per cent at the onset of the study. While Kenya was not among them, the country is still below the World Health Organization’s target of 70 per cent that was to be met in June this year. Kenya has fully vaccinated 34.5 per cent of its population.
Address the real issues
The researchers urged governments, pharmaceutical companies and international agencies to address the real issues that hinder access to vaccines and treatments.
“Investing in more pharmaceutical manufacturing in lower-income countries and maximising the use of the existing public health safeguards ... could improve reliability of access to vaccines and treatments,” said Nadia Rafif, ITPC’s advocacy and influence lead.