West African nations need to drastically ramp up their Covid-19 vaccination programmes by factor of 10 if they are to reach at least 60 per cent coverage by 2022 and achieve the population level immunity needed to bring the pandemic under control in Africa and elsewhere, a team of international researchers have written in BMJ Global Health.
In August 2020, the African Union Bureau of Heads of State and Government endorsed the Covid-19 Vaccine Development and Access Strategy to vaccinate at least 60 per cent of each country’s population with a safe and effective vaccine by 2022.
But despite the recent sharing of surplus vaccines by wealthy countries, as of mid September 2021, just 3 per cent of people in Africa had had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine compared with around 60 per cent of people in high income countries.
Such glaring inequity risks the emergence of mutant strains that could undermine the effectiveness of the existing vaccines, warned the researchers including from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and University of Siena, Italy and others.
Accordion to them, the relatively low numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases and deaths in west Africa, compared with other parts of the continent, seems to have created a false sense of security, resulting in widespread vaccine hesitancy and low uptake of the Covid-19 jab.
In addition, limited storage and delivery capacity, insufficient staffing, and poor health infrastructure have also likely played their part in hindering more widespread uptake.
To forecast the likely levels of coverage by 2022 in the 15 countries that comprise the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), the researchers analysed Covid-19 vaccine uptake 3 months after the start of vaccination roll-out, drawing on publicly available, country-level population estimates, and vaccination data.
ECOWAS comprises Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. It accounts for 410 million people, or about 5 per cent of the world’s population.
When the researchers looked at coverage after 3 months of the vaccination programme roll-out in the 15-member bloc, they found that only 0.27 per cent of its total population had been double jabbed.
On the basis of these trends, less than 1.6 per cent of the total population across ECOWAS will have been fully (double) vaccinated after 18 months of the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out, estimate the researchers.
And to achieve coverage of 50 per cent, 60 per cent, and 70 per cent after 9, 12, and 18 months of roll-out, respectively, the pace of vaccination would need to increase by 10, 7, and 4 times the current speeds, they calculate.
National governments and partners need to adopt culturally acceptable, community-led strategies to implement effective messaging that highlights the pros and cons of vaccination, and dispels the myths and misconceptions surrounding the jab, they suggest.
“Given that public trust, confidence, and acceptance of vaccinations can be enhanced if clinical trials that demonstrate a vaccine’s efficacy and safety are undertaken locally, the calls for the conduct of more clinical trials and local manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines in the west African sub-region remain strident and critically germane,” they noted.