Africa fails to step up Covid fight even with more vaccines

Saturday November 27 2021
 Covid vaccination

People queue to receive Covid vaccination in Nairobi. Low uptake of vaccines is a challenge on the continent amid reports of a new coronavirus variant. FILE PHOTO | COURTESY

By Elizabeth Merab

With a large proportion of Africans still unvaccinated, experts are concerned that Covid-19 vaccine supply on the continent is fast outpacing the uptake.

As of Thursday, data from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (AfricaCDC) showed that only 6.6 per cent of Africans have so far been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with 55 per cent of the 403 million doses available administered.

“Going by what is happening in Europe and America which are in winter, there is no doubt that we will have a surge. The lesson is that vaccination reduces severe disease and hospitalisation,” said AfricaCDC director John Nkengasong.

This comes at a time the World Health Organisation (WHO) is saying it is concerned by an emerging threat of a new variant detected in South Africa.

Across the world, an upturn in infections has seen countries mandate immunisation for groups at high risk.

Italy was first in Europe to make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory for healthcare workers; followed by the UK starting next year.


In Africa, Egypt has mandated public servants be vaccinated or take a weekly Covid tests.

In Kenya, a government directive that citizens must show proof of Covid vaccination by December 21 to access government services is being contested in court. Only 9.4 per cent of people in Kenya are fully vaccinated.

But with the slow uptake of the vaccine, should African countries consider obligatory vaccination?

Dr John Nkengasong says: “We shouldn’t get to a point of implementing vaccine mandates. However, if countries buy vaccines through taxpayers’ money and get more from donors and then they end up not being used, it begins to be a moral issue”.

A new survey of 25 African nations by WHO-Afro found only one in four (27 per cent) of health workers are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Of the countries surveyed, only six had fully vaccinated more than 90 per cent of their health workers.

Some of the countries doing well in vaccinating large numbers of health workers include Lesotho, Cabo Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Rwanda, Kenya, Madagascar, Botswana, Eswatini and Zambia.

“Our appeal is that vaccines save lives and if a vaccine mandate has to be imposed then we will have no choice but to impose it.”

In contrast, a global WHO survey found that 22 countries — mostly high-income — had vaccinated over 80 per cent of their health workers.

The countries with the lowest ratio of patients to health workers include Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, Madagascar, and Niger, Dr Moeti said. Other countries that have struggled include Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Cameroon.

Other countries have made jabs compulsory for public servants and other workers

The US plans to get US companies with 100 or more workers to vaccinate their staff or bring in regular tests.

WHO-Afro regional director Dr Matshidiso Moeti however noted that the low coverage had largely been due to supply delay and hesitancy.

But hesitancy amongst the population driven by misinformation and fear of some of the rare side effects of the vaccines has seen even health workers in some countries across the continent shy away from the vaccine,