As the Omicron variant dominates the COVID-19 news cycle, new research from the Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19 (PERC) indicates that people in African Union Member States are overwhelmingly willing to get vaccinated.
Across 19 countries, 78% of people surveyed by PERC indicated that they had been or were willing to get vaccinated, however, as of November 2021, less than 7 percent of the African continent has been vaccinated.
This gap between acceptance and coverage demonstrates a substantial unmet need and underscores the importance of consistent and predictable vaccine supply as well as increased support for vaccination programs in Africa.
The latest PERC report considers why global vaccination efforts have been plagued by inequity, as well as the logistical challenges to vaccinating the African continent.
The report outlines further the continued importance of preventive measures—particularly individual measures such as masking and social distancing—that minimize the social or economic harm that can occur when mobility, economic and social gathering restrictions are imposed.
The Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. John Nkengasong, said “We must work urgently toward equitable access to safe and effective vaccines on the African continent. The PERC data show that demand for vaccines is substantially higher than supply.”
The report stated that at 78%, vaccine acceptance was higher than in the previous PERC survey fielded earlier this year (67%), which may indicate the success of risk communication campaigns. In five surveyed countries—Guinea, Morocco, Mozambique, Tunisia and Zimbabwe—acceptance was 90% or higher.
This data reveals that such high acceptance contradicts media reports suggesting that low vaccination rates across Africa are due to hesitancy.
Among the 20% of respondents who expressed vaccine hesitancy, the top reasons were: low-risk perception (24%), not having enough information about vaccines (22%), and lack of trust in government (17%). The reasons for low-risk perception are complex, but officials can take concrete action to address them.
This goes on to show that offering more and better information to people about COVID-19 and vaccines through trusted sources, particularly health care providers, coupled with consistent and reliable vaccine supply, can further increase acceptance. Respondents’ top information sources included local health centers, television and radio.
A number of bottlenecks have contributed to the failure to achieve higher vaccination coverage. Unpredictable supply—in terms of volume, timing and, shelf life—threatens countries’ ability to meet demand. When offered, vaccination is frequently inconvenient, requiring people to travel far distances or visit vaccination sites at inopportune times.
The report gathers that the Senior Vice President of Prevent Epidemics and Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, Amanda McClelland, said “I am heartened by the efforts of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and the COVAX facility to expand vaccine access,
“But there is still work to do. Vaccine donations sent too close to expiry dates, for example, leave countries unable to launch effective vaccination campaigns” she added.
COVID-19 preventive measures remain crucial to mitigate the health impact of the virus. PERC researchers analyzed what influences support for and adherence to such measures and found that individual actions—handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing—all garnered support from at least 90% of survey respondents.
Such high support suggests that these key measures can continue to be effective strategies for reducing COVID-19 transmission.
Other preventive measures restricting gathering or movement received less support. Unemployment and food insecurity were widespread among survey respondents and made adherence to restrictive community measures a challenge. PERC researchers concluded that such measures should be targeted to specific, high-risk populations as needed to minimize harm.
President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, Dr. Tom Frieden, said “The PERC data enable policymakers to both save lives and minimize impacts on livelihoods,
“The global community has an opportunity to invest in health care workers and public health infrastructure to support vaccine delivery and COVID-19 care and prevention in the near term, and also repair and restore health service delivery disrupted by COVID-19 for the long term” he added.
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