COVID-19: Only 27% of African health workers fully vaccinated

Dr Matshidiso Moeti

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The World Health organisation, WHO has said only 27 per cent of health workers in Africa have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The global body in a statement by Collins Boakye-Agyemang, the Communications Officer for its Regional Office for Africa said analysis of data reported from 25 countries finds that since March 2021, 1.3 million health workers were fully vaccinated, with just six countries reaching more than 90 per cent.

It added that nine countries have fully vaccinated less than 40%.

In sharp contrast, WHO said a recent global study of 22 mostly high-income countries reported that above 80 per cent of their health and care workers are fully vaccinated.

“The majority of Africa’s health workers are still missing out on vaccines and remain dangerously exposed to severe COVID-19 infection. Unless our doctors, nurses and other frontline workers get full protection we risk a blowback in the efforts to curb this disease. We must ensure our health facilities are safe working environments,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa was quoted as saying in the statement.

“It is important to have high vaccine coverage among health workers not only for their own protection but also for their patients and to ensure health care systems keep operating during a time of extreme need,” he added.

WHO further noted that with the acute shortage of health workers in Africa, any loss of to COVID-19 due to illness or death will heavily impacts on service provision capacity.

It noted data provided by African countries since March 2020, show that there have been more than 150 400 COVID-19 infections in health workers, accounting for 2.5% of all confirmed cases and 2.6% of the total health work force in the region.

“Five countries account for about 70% of all the COVID-19 infections reported in health workers: Algeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

It also noted that after almost four months of a sustained decline, COVID-19 cases in the general population in Africa have plateaued with cases in Southern Africa jumping 48 per cent in the week ending on 21 November compared with the previous week.

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“The risk of health worker infection rises whenever cases surge. This is a pattern that has been observed during the previous three waves of the pandemic. With a fourth wave likely to hit after the end-of-year travel season, health workers will again face risks amid low vaccination coverage.

“To date, more than 227 million vaccine doses have been administered in Africa. In 39 countries which provided data, 3.9 million doses have been given to health workers.

“With a new surge in cases looming over Africa following the end-of-year festive season, countries must urgently speed up the rollout of vaccines to health care workers,” said Dr Moeti.

WHO added that lhe low coverage is likely due to the availability of vaccination services, especially in rural areas, as well as vaccine hesitancy.

It added that cRecent studies found that only around 40 per cent of health workers intended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Ghana and less than 50 per cent in Ethiopia.

“Concerns over vaccine safety and the adverse side effects of the vaccines have been identified as the main reasons for their hesitancy. Health workers are key sources of information for the general population and their attitudes can influence vaccine uptake.

“The COVID-19 vaccine stands among humanity’s extraordinary scientific feats. In Africa, we’re gradually overcoming supply constraints. Now is not the time to stumble over vaccine mistrust,” said Dr Moeti.

In support of national efforts to drive up health worker vaccination, WHO said it is coordinating trainings and dialogue on vaccine safety and efficacy to help address doubts or misconceptions around the COVID-19 vaccine as well as advocating open and honest communication about the benefits and side effects of vaccination.

Dr Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Dr Apetsianyi Yawa, Coordinator, Technical Working Group for the Deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, Togo, and Mr Michael Ekuma Nnachi, National President, National Association of Nigeria Nurses/Midwives, Nigeria.