Vaccination coverage against COVID-19 has stagnated in half of African countries, while the number of doses administered monthly fell by more than 50% between July and September, according to an analysis by the World Health Organization ( WHO).
While Africa is far from reaching the global goal of protecting 70% of the population by the end of the year, modest progress has been made in vaccinating high-risk population groups, particularly the elderly.
The WHO analysis shows that the percentage of people with the complete primary vaccination series (one dose for Johnson and Johnson and two doses for other vaccines) has hardly moved in 27 of 54 African countries in the last two months (17 August – October 16, 2022).
In addition, 23 million doses were administered in September, 18% less than those registered in August and 51% less than the 47 million doses administered in July. The number of doses provided last month is also about a third of the peak of 63 million doses reached in February 2022.
However, there are signs of improvement this month, with 22 million doses administered as of October 16, 2022, which which represents 95%.
of the total managed in September.
Overall, as of October 16, 2022, only 24% of the continent’s population had completed their primary vaccination series compared to 64% coverage globally.
Rwanda is also on the verge of achieving this milestone.
Other small signs of progress are that the number of countries with less than 10% of people completing their primary series has dropped from 26 in December 2021 to five now.
Despite these achievements, at the current rate of vaccination, Africa is expected to reach the global target of 70% of people with a complete primary vaccination series by April 2025.
“The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is at hand.
but while Africa lags far behind the rest of the world in achieving widespread protection, there is a dangerous gap that the virus can exploit to come back with a vengeance,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“The highest priority is to protect 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 increase coverage among healthcare workers, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.”
Based on data from 31 countries, by 16 October 2022, 40% of African health workers had completed their primary series.
This latest data uses estimates of the country’s population size rather than earlier figures that used International Labor Organization estimates of the health workforce.
In 15 of these countries, more than 70% of health workers have been fully vaccinated compared to 27% at the beginning of the year.
31% of older adults (ages 50-65 or older, depending on country age limits) have been fully vaccinated based on data from 27 countries, an increase from 21% in January 2022.
While the difficult access to doses undermined vaccination efforts in 2021, these issues have largely been resolved with countries receiving on average 67 doses per 100 people compared to 34 doses per 100 people at the end of 2021 and 13 doses per 100 at the end of September 2021.
The continent has received 936 million doses of vaccines, 62% of which came from the COVAX Facility.
“After a rocky start, the COVAX partnership has secured a steady pipeline of COVID-19 vaccines for Africa,” said Dr. Moeti.
“Now, we are victims of our own success.
Since vaccines have helped reduce the number of infections, people no longer fear COVID-19 and very few are willing to get vaccinated.” Mass vaccination campaigns have been instrumental in boosting COVID-19 vaccine coverage, contributing to 85% of total doses administered in the African region.
However, in recent months the number of people vaccinated has dropped significantly while operating costs per person continue to rise.
This decline in effectiveness is due to suboptimal planning and preparation, especially at the subnational levels.
“COVID-19 vaccination campaigns are quick operations and are only effective with good planning,” said Dr. Moeti.
“I urge countries to make our goal of reaching all districts a reality by improving preparations for vaccination campaigns.” Vaccine hesitancy and a low-risk perception of the pandemic, particularly with the recent decline in cases, are also holding back uptake.
Over the last 12 weeks, Africa has recorded the lowest number of cases since the start of the pandemic.
In the week ending October 16, 4,281 new cases were reported, representing 1.3% of the peak of the Omicron-driven increase reached in December 2021.
Currently, no countries are resurgent or on high alert, and deaths remain low throughout the region, with a case fatality rate of 2.1%.
The response to multiple public health emergencies is also affecting the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Outbreaks of polio, measles, yellow fever and now Ebola have changed priorities in affected countries.
To help countries step up vaccination efforts, WHO in Africa has embarked on a series of measures that include helping countries assess readiness for vaccination campaigns at provincial and district levels, tracking vaccination among priority groups, carry out high-level advocacy to drive uptake, help countries integrate COVID-19 vaccines into other planned mass vaccination campaigns, and also send emergency missions to countries to improve vaccination quality of vaccination campaigns.
Dr. Moeti spoke today during a virtual press conference.
She was joined by Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, Minister of Health of Liberia; and Ms. Aurelia Nguyen, Special Advisor, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Also present from the WHO Regional Office for Africa were Dr. Modjirom Ndoutabe, Polio Program Coordinator; Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe, Medical Lead for Vaccine Introduction; and Dr. Patrick Otim, Health Emergencies Officer, Acute Event Management Unit.