When Africans asked for COVID vaccines, they did not get them. Now they don’t want them

  • Demand for COVID vaccines plummets in Africa as supply increases
  • Countries are turning to mobile campaigns to drive adoption
  • Africa, 20 years old on average, has weathered the pandemic better
  • Experts warn that new variants could emerge on the continent

DAKAR/ACCRA, May 18 (Reuters) – It’s noisy inside the Mamprobi clinic in Accra as children climb on their mothers while waiting for measles vaccinations. Outside, an area reserved for COVID-19 shots is empty. A health worker leans back in her chair and scrolls on a tablet.

A woman, waiting to have her daughter vaccinated, is fully aware of the dangers of measles: high fever, rash, risk to eyesight. But COVID-19? She has never heard of a single case.

The perception that COVID-19 does not pose a significant threat is common in Ghana’s capital and elsewhere in Africa, whose young population has suffered a fraction of the casualties that have driven vaccine uptake in places like Europe. and America, where the disease has spread. elderly populations.

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“I mean Ghana has been spared so far doing exactly what we are doing,” said Nana Kwaku Addo, a 28-year-old construction worker in Accra. “I’ve heard people say it’s common sense (to get vaccinated), but what about all the other countries that took it and still put people in lockdown. “

Only 17% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people are fully immunized against COVID-19 – compared to more than 70% in some countries – in part because the wealthiest countries have been hoarding supplies over the year last, when global demand was highest, much to the chagrin of African countries desperate for international supplies.

Now though, as the doses finally hit the continent in full force, inoculation rates are plummeting. The number of vaccines given fell 35% in March, according to data from the World Health Organization, erasing a 23% increase seen in February. People are less afraid now. Vaccine misinformation has spread.

“If we had gotten vaccines earlier, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen so often,” Christina Odei, COVID-19 team leader at Mamprobi Clinic, said of the low uptake in Accra. “At first everyone really wanted it, but we didn’t have the vaccines.”

This worries public health experts who say leaving such a large population unvaccinated increases the risk of new variants emerging on the continent before spreading to regions like Europe as governments there abandon mandates to mask and travel restrictions.

A sign of possible perils ahead, cases of two Omicron subvariants have spiked in recent weeks in South Africa, the continent’s worst-hit country, prompting authorities to warn of a fifth wave of infections.

To boost uptake, countries are focusing on mobile vaccination campaigns, in which teams visit communities and offer doses on the spot.

However, many African countries cannot afford the vehicles, fuel, coolers and salaries needed for a national campaign, according to more than a dozen health officials, workers and experts. from several countries. Meanwhile, donor funding has been slow to arrive, they said.

Rahab Mwaniki, the Africa coordinator for advocacy group People’s Vaccine Alliance, said it was a “big ask” for Africans to prioritize getting COVID-19 vaccines to help protect others. around the world when infection rates at home were low.

“A lot of people say ‘you haven’t helped us.’ They feel like the West has never really supported them,” she added, stressing that Africans should always get vaccinated to be protect and protect others from new variants.


Many African countries have a long history of deadly diseases. Millions of people fall ill with tuberculosis every year. Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people every year, mostly children under five. Ebola periodically arises in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

West Africa is facing its worst food crisis on record, caused by conflict, drought and the impact of war in Ukraine on food prices.

For many people, COVID-19, which carries a much higher risk of serious illness and death in older adults, is not the most pressing concern. The median age in Africa is 20, the lowest of any region, and about half of 43 in Europe and 39 in North America, according to a Pew Research Center analysis UN data.

“Let me ask you a question,” said Mawule, a businessman in Accra. “Is COVID the biggest problem in Ghana right now? Do you think it’s a bigger problem than inflation, the way people are suffering for fuel?”

Now the continent has too many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccination sites are empty; millions of unused vials are piling up and one of Africa’s leading producers of COVID-19 vaccines is still waiting for an order. Read more

At the Mamprobi clinic, health workers in bright yellow vests resorted to proactive measures.

They fan out at bustling market stalls and shops across the region, one with a slung cooler containing injections of the COVID-19 vaccine, asking wary shoppers if they would like an injection.

After an hour of hard work in the scorching sun, the team had only administered four doses.


To boost uptake, countries like Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Kenya are focusing on mobile vaccination campaigns that visit communities. But finances are tight.

Misinformation is difficult to untangle on a continent where big pharma has in the past conducted questionable clinical trials resulting in deaths. Health workers say they need funds to counter false rumours.

Ghana, one of Africa’s most developed economies and applauded for its early inoculation push, has a $30 million funding gap to run another campaign, according to the World Bank. Irregular electricity supply jeopardizes the vaccine cold chain. The doses expire.

“We no longer have a problem with the number of vaccines. It is only a problem of consumption and money to distribute these vaccines to people,” said Joseph Dwomor Ankrah, who manages the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in the country.

Niger, where only 6% of the population is fully immunized, lacks enough cold stores for vaccines in its vast rural areas, or motorbikes to distribute them, according to the World Bank.

There have been some successes; Ethiopia has vaccinated 15 million people in a nationwide campaign since mid-February, for example.

Yet uptake is “extremely low” in the small state of The Gambia, said Mustapha Bittaye, director of health services.

The African Union wants The Gambia to take delivery of more than 200,000 doses, but the country is still working on an old batch and does not need more, Bittaye said.

In Zambia, where coverage is 11%, officials are planning awareness campaigns but fear they will not be able to cover the cost of food for doctors working away from home or pay for their transport.

In Sierra Leone, where 14% of the population is fully immunized, radio stations sometimes refuse to air government pro-vaccine messages due to unpaid bills, said Solomon Jamiru, the country’s COVID-19 spokesperson. .

A World Bank fund for vaccine procurement and deployment has sent $3.6 billion to sub-Saharan Africa. Of this amount, only $520 million has been spent. Amit Dar, the bank’s human development director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said outdated health systems had struggled to absorb funding.

Health experts say more funding was needed early in the pandemic for logistics and training.

“The fact that we didn’t invest heavily a year or 18 months ago is a big part of what we’re seeing now,” said Emily Janoch, senior director of the Care USA aid group. “These are the consequences of previous failures.”

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Reporting by Edward McAllister in Dakar and Cooper Inveen in Accra; Additional reporting by Jennifer Rigby and Josephine Mason in London; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Pravin Char

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