By Sharon Atieno

With up to 6,000 new cases being registered weekly in the African region, countries have been urged not to drop their guard despite COVID-19 declining as a public health emergency of international concern.

“The acute phase of the pandemic might be over, but the pandemic still exists globally. Therefore, we need to take precautions to ensure we remain safe,” Prof. Jayne Byakika Tusiime,  Incident Manager for the COVID-19 Incident Management Support team, World Health Organization (WHO) Africa office said.

She was speaking during a webinar dubbed COVID-19 Transition Beyond the Acute Stage of the Pandemic in Africa. 

Noting that vaccination has proven effective in preventing the severity of disease and death, Prof. Byakika said that vaccination remains a key strategy for countries to keep COVID-19 in check.

Despite this, she noted that the vaccination rates in Africa are still low and countries need to ramp up this exercise.

Statistics from WHO show that seven out of ten people globally have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine compared to less than four out of ten in Africa. Additionally, only 30% of the African population have completed two doses compared to 65% worldwide.

Worse still, only four countries in the WHO African region have vaccinated at least 70% of their populations. These include Mauritius, Liberia, Rwanda and Seychelles.

COVID-19 vaccination update globally and in Africa
Photo credits: Our World in Data

Prof. Byakika observed that during this phase of transition, vulnerable populations including the elderly and healthcare workers should be given priority.

She noted that almost half of the elderly population in Africa are not vaccinated despite being at risk of the disease due to a weakened immune system. Also, only 47 out of 100 healthcare workers have completed the two doses in 23 out of 47 countries in the WHO Africa region.

According to her, there is a surplus of vaccines in the African continent which if not utilized will end up expiring. Already, about 38 countries have reported vaccine expiration due to low utilization.

Additionally, Prof. Byakika urged members of the public to observe the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of COVID-19 including wearing masks, social distancing, proper hand washing and isolation if confirmed positive among others.