By Sharon Atieno

Though African countries are struggling to secure more COVID-19 vaccine doses for their populace, vaccine hesitancy remains a struggle that these countries have to deal with.

Regionally, vaccination rates remain low with less than 2 % of the population having received complete vaccination, according to the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). So far, only about 5% of the population have received the first vaccine.

Despite difficulties in accessing vaccines, vaccine hesitancy- the refusal or delayed acceptance to be vaccinated- has been highlighted as one of the main reasons for the low turnout in the African region.

A 2020 Africa CDC survey in 15 countries found that while 79% of respondents would take a COVID-19 vaccine, vaccine hesitancy ranged from four to 38%. In a recent five-country Afrobarometer survey  six out of 10 citizens in Benin, Liberia, Niger, Senegal and Togo were hesitant to get vaccinated.

Shockingly, studies in the region have proven that women are more hesitant to the COVID-19 vaccines as opposed to their male counterparts.

A study carried out in Ghana by the University of Southampton found that the odds of hesitancy was almost two times higher in females than in males. In Kenya, an Amref Health Africa study among the youth shows similar results.

Esther Wanja, at her Kibera residence

Esther Wanja, a resident of Kibera estate in Nairobi city is among the women in this category. She is worried that if she gets the vaccine, she may die and leave her children.

“I have heard that when you’re vaccinated there are no immediate side effects, but after two years they start showing,” Wanja notes.

“All the government does is to push us to take the vaccine, but nobody is coming to the ground to come and explain to us why we really need to take this vaccine. We can’t be vaccinated just because people are being vaccinated, we have to have the correct information.”

Veronica Ajiambo’s case is different. The mother of four is in denial about the existence of COVID-19 disease in her area. She is waiting to be shown a COVID-19 patient in a weak and sickly state for her to know that the disease exists, otherwise she does not see the need to be vaccinated.

Besides, Ajiambo notes that the claims around the vaccine such as its use to reduce the population of Africans and the vaccine being labelled as fake, is not helping the situation.

Veronica playing with her baby

Though all the family members of Rona Gitahi have been vaccinated, she is still hesitant to get the jab because of the fear of the unknown. She notes that side effects’ reports from her family and other relations, have contributed to her not being vaccinated.

“I am just afraid of the side effects, it seems the vaccines are reacting differently with everyone’s immune system,” she said.

Prof. Joachim Osur, Vice Chancellor, Amref International University, observes that what fuels the difference in hesitancy between men and women is their source of information. While men tend to get information from radio and television, majority of women tend to rely on social media, he said.

Prof Osur notes that for the vaccination drive to be successful and for herd immunity to be achieved it is crucial to increase uptake of vaccine among the women.

“The pandemic will only end when herd immunity is achieved, this can only be done if between 60-80% of the population is vaccinated. Women are almost half the population so we are all not safe until women get vaccinated,” he said.

Prof. Osur warns of dire consequences if a section of the population is not vaccinated including risk of the virus mutating and variants which are worse than the Delta variant emerging.

He notes that in order to increase vaccine uptake among women, there is need for better vaccination messaging which proactively targets women as well as better use of social media to promote positive health information to counter the negative ones.