Why there is low uptake of Covid-19 vaccine in Africa

Monday December 20 2021
Covid vaccine.

A health worker ahead of a vaccination drive at Kya Sands informal settlement in Johannesburg, South Africa, last December. PHOTO | AFP

By Elizabeth Merab

As the Omicron variant dominates the Covid-19 news cycle, new research from the African Union’s Partnership for Evidence-based Response to Covid-19 (PERC) indicates a number of bottlenecks that have contributed to the failure to achieve higher vaccination coverage in the continent.

Unpredictable supply — in terms of volume, timing, and shelf life— continues to threaten countries’ ability to meet demand. When offered, the report released Thursday notes, that vaccination is frequently inconvenient, requiring people to travel far distances or visit vaccination sites at inopportune times.

As a result, many African countries whose Covid-19 vaccine dose supply recently increased, are grappling with slow uptake of the jabs, threatening dose shelf life.

However, the 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 programmes in Africa.

“Among the 20 percent of respondents who expressed vaccine hesitancy, the top reasons were: low-risk perception (24 percent), not having enough information about vaccines (22 percent), and lack of trust in government (17 percent),” said the report.

Vaccination coverage remains highly variable across the region. Current data shows that only 20 African countries have vaccinated at least 10 percent of their population, a target that the WHOO had set for September 2021. And only six countries have hit the year-end target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of their population.


“At the current pace, it is estimated it will be by August 2024 before it reaches the 70 per cent mark,” said WHO during its virtual press briefing this past week.

As of December 17, Africa CDC data shows that 8.64 percent has been fully vaccinated. Further, the continent has consumed 64 percent of the vaccine doses received so far (40.7 million of 284.1 million vaccine doses used to date).

In addition, data compiled by the Africa Data Hub from Ministry of Health and the WHO shows that Kenya (36 percent), Uganda (32 percent), and Burundi’s (one per cent) absorption rate of vaccines versus their supplies remains low

South Sudan (47 percent), Somalia (42 percent), and even Tanzania (47 percent) have some of the highest consumption rates of their shots. In the region, Rwanda has the highest Covid vaccine doses absorption rate of 84 percent, having consumed 11.4 million of the 13.6 million doses received to date.

In Kenya, a survey by the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists, and Dentists Union conducted between July 1 and August 15, found that corruption and mistrust of government undermine pandemic response as do dissatisfaction with the government’s response to the pandemic and vaccine rollout, and misinformation.

Also, while the government fared well in public communications and information dissemination on the pandemic, information dissemination and general communications about Covid-19 seem to have failed to erode the power of dominant myths and misinformation.

Up to 75 and 77.5 per cent of all respondents respectively registered a negative perception towards the vaccines and the vaccination process.

Contributing to the negative perception are general fear of the unknown, lack of clarity on long-term negative effects of the Covid-19 vaccines; myths about the disease being man-made or a Western tool for population control of citizens of the Global South.

“This state of misinformation has been compounded by the lack of public awareness and communication campaigns supported by effective community-level mobilisation,” notes the survey.

A vast majority (85 per cent) of respondents in the survey attributed major hindrance to vaccine acceptance and uptake in Kenya to the absence of meaningful and inclusive consultation with key stakeholders — including with healthcare workers and their unions.

“Other than misinformation, up to 56 percent of respondents believed that trust in the Kenya government was the second most likely factor to affect the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines.”

The PERC report added that vaccine hesitancy is “not a top challenge on the African continent” saying that the majority of respondents said they had received, or planned to get, a Covid-19 vaccine.

Acceptance rates were influenced by trust in key people and institutions and their handling of the pandemic; perceived risk of Covid-19 to oneself and one’s country; age; trust in the vaccines; and availability of information on vaccines and Covid-19.

The report shows that people in AU member states are overwhelmingly willing to get vaccinated with up to 78 percent of people surveyed across 19 countries indicating that they had been or were willing to get vaccinated.