The World Health Organization warns Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination coverage has stagnated, putting the continent’s 1.2 billion people at higher risk for this ever-evolving virus.
New numbers from the WHO show a significant decline in new vaccinations, with immunization rates dropping by more than half between July and September.
At this rate, WHO officials say most countries in Africa will miss the global goal of vaccinating 70 percent of their populations by the end of the year.
Despite this setback, WHO says modest progress is being made towards vaccinating high-risk population groups, particularly the elderly. In other good news, the agency reports over the past 12 weeks, Africa has recorded the lowest case numbers since the start of the pandemic, adding that deaths remain low across the region.
WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, says in many ways, Africa is a victim of its own success.
“It is important to note that vaccine supply is no longer problematic; countries are now receiving about double the number of doses per 100 people than at the end of last year…Unfortunately, as vaccines have helped avert serious COVID-19 illness, hospitalization and death, people are less fearful, and so also less willing to get vaccinated,” said Moeti.
Several African countries have defied the statistics and racked up vaccination
successes. WHO reports Liberia now has joined Mauritius and Seychelles in reaching more than 70 percent coverage and Rwanda is on target to join them soon.
Liberia’s Health Minister, Wilhelmina Jallah, explains how her country achieved this milestone.
“The magic bullet was decentralization, making sure each county ran their own vaccination campaign and the participation of all the health care workers and the vaccinators and the support from all of the partners…And making sure that the vaccines were available. That is key to success,” said Jallah.
Aurelia Nguyen is special adviser to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. She says GAVI so far has supplied 670 million doses to Africa. She says vaccines will continue to be sent to Africa for as long as the pandemic continues and poses a threat.
“We have enough doses to go around. We are especially determined to make sure the vulnerable groups are protected. And so elderly health care workers, primary series but also boosters,” Nguyen said. “And this is the only way that we are going to be able to ensure that lives are saved and that the health systems hold strong if we have a new variant or a surge.”
More than 250,000 people in Africa have lost their lives to COVID-19. WHO officials say high vaccination coverage in populations reduces the spread of the virus, helps prevent new variants from emerging and saves lives.