Africans show vaccination willingness despite low coverage

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New report on COVID-19 in Africa shows widespread willingness to get vaccinated, underscoring need for consistent supply and additional logistical support.
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% 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.
“We must work urgently toward equitable access to safe and effective vaccines on the African continent,” said Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. “The PERC data show that demand for vaccines is substantially higher than supply.”
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.
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. 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.
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 hand washing, 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.
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.
Income loss also may have had an adverse impact on access to essential health services. Cost and affordability were cited as the primary obstacles to receiving care. Declines in the number of health visits have likely contributed to declines across key health indicators. PERC researchers advocate for urgent investment to stabilize health systems and regain progress lost during the pandemic.
“The PERC data enable policymakers to both save lives and minimize impacts on livelihoods,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. “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.”
PERC authors recommended global community should support AU Member States in supplying vaccines at a better coordinated and more systematic pace to allow broader, more effective and equitable distribution. COVID-19 preventive measures are critical to mitigate COVID-19 transmission, Ministries of Health have competing priorities-both maintaining longer-term investments in endemic diseases, such as HIV and tuberculosis, Strengthening health data systems to be better prepared for health threats is critical. The global community and national governments should invest-to the fullest extent possible-in public health infrastructure and social protection programs that build and maintain resilience,
PERC polled approximately 23,000 people across 19 African Union Member States; compiled social, economic and epidemiological data from a range of sources; and compared results from previous surveys conducted in February 2021 and August 2020.