Brazzaville — Africa’s COVID-19 vaccine uptake rose by 15% between January and February as several countries embarked on mass vaccination drives to expand coverage and protect populations against the adverse health impacts of the virus.
Around 62 million doses were administered across the continent in February up from 54 million in January. The uptick was driven mainly by vaccination campaigns in populous countries including Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria. To boost the COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Africa, World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and partners are supporting mass vaccination drives in at least 10 priority countries to reach 100 million people by the end of April 2022.
A mass vaccination campaign in Ethiopia, for instance, pushed up the number of doses administered by 136% between 23 January and 6 March 2022. In Kenya, a two-week mass vaccination drive in early February saw an average of 200 000 people vaccinated daily compared with 70 000 per day before the campaign. Tanzania, while not yet carrying out mass vaccinations, witnessed an increase of 152% in vaccine uptake between January and February.
“The vaccination drives have ignited a positive momentum against the pandemic in Africa. With every additional person vaccinated, the weaker the power of COVID-19 over our lives becomes,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “While this progress is welcome, the pace of vaccination across the continent needs to increase nine-fold if we are to reach our target of vaccinating 70% of the population by June 2022.”
To date, the continent has fully vaccinated just 15% of the adult population. Of the 714 million doses received so far, 435 million or 61% has been administered. Fifteen countries are yet to reach 10% of their population fully vaccinated. Twenty-one African countries have fully vaccinated between 10% and 19% of their populations. Five countries have fully vaccinated between 40% and 69% of their populations. Only Mauritius and Seychelles have surpassed 70% vaccination coverage.
Early lessons learned from the multi-partner support being provided to countries show that diversifying vaccination delivery strategies including mass vaccination campaigns and strong community engagement enable countries to reach large numbers of people quickly. Political commitment and strong leadership at all levels are key to producing positive results. Effective coordination and sufficient funding to support operational costs are pivotal to the success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
As Africa strives to step up vaccine uptake, it is witnessing a sustained decline in COVID-19 cases. Reported cases have fallen for nine straight weeks since the peak of the fourth pandemic wave in early January. The continent reported a 10% decline in cases in the week ending on 13 March compared with the week before. Deaths declined by 37% over the same period.
“Although the continent is reporting fewer and fewer cases, this does not signal the end of the pandemic. We must maximize on this opportunity to protect as many people as possible with the vaccine and close all the avenues for a COVID-19 resurgence,” Dr Moeti said. “As COVID-19 risk perception among populations decreases and preventive measures are relaxed, our challenge is to ensure that countries continue scaling up vaccine uptake.”