Lagos — The uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa means that high-risk individuals are protected against severe infections and vaccine targets set by the World Health Organization will be reached, infectious disease specialists have said.
While Africa is still lagging behind the rest of the world on COVID-19 vaccine access and uptake, the WHO says immunisation rates are improving.
The World Health Assembly in May last year set a COVID-19 vaccine goal for countries to vaccinate at least ten per cent of their populations by 30 September, 2021. Only 15 African countries met this target, including Seychelles and Mauritius which have reached a 60 per cent vaccination rate. Morocco achieved a 48 per cent vaccination rate while Cape Verde, Comoros and Tunisia vaccinated 20 per cent of their populations. Nine other African countries, including South Africa, Morocco and Tunisia, reached the ten per cent goal.
However, by July this year there had been some improvement with COVID-19 vaccination coverage. Rates increased from less than four per cent in both Ethiopia and Zambia to 33 per cent and 25.2 per cent respectively.
“What this increase in COVID-19 vaccination portends for Africa is that the needle in coverage for Africa will move towards the set targets and the hope is that individuals in the highest risk groups will be protected against any eventualities like new variants and waves,” Phionah Atuhebwe, medical officer for new vaccines at the WHO regional office for Africa, tells SciDev.net.
Atuhebwe says the regional office is giving technical assistance, partnering with ministries of health to deliver COVID-19 vaccines and organising funding programmes to sustain this progress and ensure vaccine delivery targets are met.
Chika Offor, chief executive officer of Vaccine Network and Disease Control in Nigeria, says it is important to address in Africa to increase the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“African leaders need to collaborate with non-governmental organisations, private sectors, partners and experts in their countries to put up an approach on how to engage citizens to increase [COVID-19] vaccination,” Offor said.
She tells SciDev.Net that governments and ministries of health in the region must be transparent with information to stop misinformation from spreading.
Uptake in vaccine doses
“The dramatic rise in vaccines doses administered has pushed six countries beyond the critical benchmark of having more than ten per cent of their total population completing their primary series of vaccine doses,” the WHO said.
“Among countries that stepped-up vaccination campaigns in June are Tanzania where vaccination coverage for a completed primary series rose from 1.8 to 15.8 per cent while South Sudan rose from two per cent to 11 per cent.”
Opeayo Ogundiran, WHO Africa’s infectious disease specialist for COVID-19 response tells SciDev.Net that as part of measures to ensure vaccines get to local communities, the WHO is assisting countries to identify vulnerable populations such as people living with co-existing diseases, and the elderly and engaging them with information that can be used to target them for vaccination.
“We also send in the right team into the communities to talk about COVID-19 and the benefit of vaccination. These teams go along with vaccines for the people,” Ogundiran said.
Containing infection rates
Ogundiran also tells SciDev.Net that the organisation is implementing measures to contain infection rates, such as supporting countries to roll out rapid diagnostic tests and contact tracing programmes.
“WHO Africa is improving community-based intervention by ensuring that when a COVID-19 case is confirmed, there is a search by a 100 meter radius around that case and testing is offered for people in different communities,” says Ogundiran.
A study published in the 1 August issue of The Lancet Global Health estimates that from January 2020 to December 2021, less than two per cent of COVID-19 infections in Africa were reported. According to the study, by the end of this year there could be 166.2 million cases and about 22,600 deaths in the region.
“In Africa, the actual burden is understood from both the extent of transmission and the severity or death,” Humphrey Cyprian Karamagi, co-author of the study and a WHO Africa senior technical officer for health systems development, tells SciDev.net.
“The reason for the analysis is to bridge the gap by providing reliable estimates of the extent of COVID-19 transmission and deaths.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.