By Tsim Mavisi

COVID-19 vaccination has stagnated in half of African countries while the number of doses administered monthly has declined by more than 50% between July and September, an analysis done by the World Health Organization shows.

Though Africa is far from reaching the year-end global target of protecting 70% of the population, it observes that modest progress has been made in vaccinating high-risk population groups, particularly the elderly.

The analysis shows that in the past two months (17 August – 16 October 2022), the percentage of people with complete primary vaccination series had barely changed in 27 out of 54 African countries.

In the month of September, 23 million doses were administered which is 18% less than the number registered in August, and 51% less than the 47 million doses administered in July.

The number of doses provided in September represents about one-third of the peak of the 63 million doses reached in February 2022. However, there are signs of improvement in the month of October where 22 million doses have been given as of 16 October 2022, representing 95% of the total administered in September.

According to the analysis, just 24% of the continent’s population had completed their primary vaccination series compared with the coverage of 64% at the global level.

Additionally, the number of countries which had less than 10% of people completing their primary series had dropped from 26 in December 2021 to 5 as of October 2022. Despite these achievements, at the current pace of vaccination, Africa is expected to meet the global target of 70% of people with complete primary vaccination series by April 2025.

“The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is within sight, but as long as Africa lags far behind the rest of the world in reaching widespread protection, there is a dangerous gap which the virus can exploit to come roaring back,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“The biggest priority is to shield 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 boost coverage among health workers, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.”

She observed that the drop in COVID-19 infections had resulted in laxity among the people as few people were willing to get vaccinated.

“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 every district a reality by improving preparations for vaccination campaigns.”

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 the past few months, the number of people being vaccinated has dropped significantly while the operational costs per person keep increasing. This decline in effectiveness can be attributed to sub-optimal planning and preparations, especially at the sub-national levels.

Vaccine hesitancy and a low-risk perception of the pandemic, notably with the recent decline in cases are also dampening uptake. Over the past 3 months, Africa has recorded the lowest case numbers since the start of the pandemic. No country is currently in resurgence or on high alert and deaths remain low across the region, with a case fatality rate of 2.1%.

To assist countries in intensifying vaccination efforts, WHO Africa region has embarked on a raft of measures which include: supporting countries to assess the preparedness for vaccination campaigns at provincial and district levels, tracking vaccination among priority groups, and carrying out high-level advocacy to boost uptake.

Additionally, it will also help countries to integrate COVID-19 vaccines in other planned mass vaccination campaigns as well as deploy surge missions to countries to improve the quality of vaccination drives.