Africa is ramping up COVID-19 vaccination of high-risk population groups with some promising signs. Nearly 50% of health workers and people over the age of 60 are fully vaccinated against the virus in countries that report data to the World Health Organization (WHO).
June 2022 data from 31 countries that reported COVID-19 vaccination of high-risk groups shows a significant increase compared to the end of December 2021, when only 33% of health workers and 10% of older people were fully vaccinated. The WHO recommends 90% vaccination coverage for health workers and 80% coverage for people over 60 years of age.
Only two African countries (Mauritius and Seychelles) have fully vaccinated 70% of their total population. Rwanda is expected to achieve this goal by the end of the month based on the pace of its current adoption, bringing to three the number of countries in Africa that reach the global goal of 70% by the end of June.
However, Africa has a predominantly young demographic, with 45% of the continent’s population under the age of 18. In an attempt to use vaccines strategically, most countries are targeting their adult population. WHO recommends countries with low vaccination coverage to focus on high-priority groups: health workers, older adults, and people with comorbidities. The continent’s coverage of people over 18 years of age is estimated at 34%, significantly higher than the 18% total coverage in the general population. Nine countries have fully vaccinated more than 70% of their adult population, while 21 have reached more than 40% of adults.
“Having been beset by poor access to doses, costly delays and gaps, the progress of COVID-19 vaccination in Africa so far is no mean feat,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of the WHO for Africa. “Africa’s young population has helped the continent weather the COVID-19 pandemic. While protecting young people at high risk for COVID-19 is paramount, focusing efforts on vaccinating older people, healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations will ensure we stay one step ahead of the virus.”
WHO recommends that countries continue to focus on high-priority populations, such as health workers, people with comorbidities, and older people, and diversify vaccination delivery strategies, combining vaccination at fixed health facility sites with efforts to bring vaccination to communities through mass vaccination campaigns. and intensification of routine immunization activities.
To date, at least 31 countries have planned massive vaccination campaigns until the end of the year. During mass vaccination campaigns, WHO recommends that countries establish tailored mobile teams for targeted vaccination of high-priority groups. Learning from the experience of HIV testing and treatment, provider-initiated COVID-19 vaccination should be offered in primary health care and in special units that offer care to people with co-morbidities such as HIV, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
WHO and its partners are focusing support on countries that are at risk of being left behind. Fourteen African countries with less than 10% vaccination coverage will receive support from multiple partner countries, and WHO will intensify efforts to strengthen COVID-19 vaccination data management in its assistance to these countries, many of which they are also dealing with humanitarian crises. and/or disease outbreaks.
Over the past week, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Africa has risen marginally after a sustained three-week decline. This slight uptick was due to the recent increase in reported cases in East and North Africa. As of June 13, 2022, there were 11.9 million cases of COVID-19 in Africa, including 254,442 deaths.
Dr. Moeti was speaking today during a virtual press conference facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Dr Daniel Kyabayinze, Director, Public Health, Ministry of Health, Uganda; Professor Emmanuel Nakoune, Acting Director of the Institut Pasteur in Bangui, Central African Republic; and Dr. Peter Fonjungo, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Also present from the WHO Regional Office for Africa to answer questions were Dr. Abdou Salam Gueye, Director of Emergency Preparedness and Response; Dr. Thierno Balde, Regional Incident Manager for COVID-19; Dr. Fiona Braka, Team Leader, Emergency Operations; and Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe Vaccine Introduction Medical Officer.