KAMPALA, Uganda – Some Africans are hesitating to receive COVID-19 vaccines amid concerns about their safety, alarming public health officials as some countries begin to destroy thousands of doses that have expired before use.
Malawi and South Sudan have said in recent days that they will destroy some of their doses, a worrying development on a continent where health officials have spoken openly about the need for equal vaccination, while the world’s rich countries hold most of the vaccines. vaccines.
Africa, whose 1.3 billion people represent 16% of the world population, received less than 2% of the doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
The continent confirmed more than 4.5 million cases of COVID-19, including 120,000 deaths, a small fraction of global fatalities and number of cases. But some experts fear that the continent of 54 nations will suffer in the long run if it takes longer than expected to reach the limit that scientists believe is necessary to prevent the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 – 70% or more of the population with immunity by past vaccination or infection.
Africa plans to vaccinate up to 60% of its population by the end of 2022.
Achieving this goal will require about 1.5 billion doses of vaccine for Africa if the double AstraZeneca vaccine continues to be widely used. But safety concerns related to this vaccine, often the main injection available in the donor-supported COVAX program to ensure access to developing countries, have worried some Africans.
The vaccine-related suspicions were widely publicized on social media, motivated in part by a general lack of trust in the authorities. The Ugandan health minister had to refute accusations that she pretended to have received an injection, even posting a video of herself receiving the injection on Twitter, along with the warning: “Please stop spreading false news!
Some have raised the false claim that injections can cause infertility on sites like WhatsApp. Others openly question the speed with which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed.
“The world hasn’t been able to find an AIDS vaccine all these years, but did they quickly find a vaccine for COVID? I will not accept this vaccine, ”said Richard Bbale, an electrician in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, expressing fears that an experimental vaccine could be harmful. “Even if the government forces us to take the vaccine as if it were a national identity document, I will not go.”
Austin Demby, Sierra Leone’s health minister, told reporters last week that a third of the 96,000 doses the country received in March are unlikely to be used before expiring, citing the lack of urgency among some people who have decided that COVID- 19 “is not as bad as Ebola”, which devastated the country several years ago.
“People are concerned that this is another public experiment that they want to do with our people,” he said.
The World Health Organization and the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have asked African governments to continue launching the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying its benefits outweigh any risks after European countries have limited its use due to concerns about rare blood clots in one small number of receivers.
“Anything you take has a risk. Any drug, “said CDC Africa director John Nkengasong at a briefing last week, citing some essential drugs that can cause blood clots in rare cases.” This is how we should look at these vaccines. “
Africa CDC said in a statement last week that it received guidance from the Serum Institute of India recommending a three-month “life span” on the April 13 expiration date of at least one million AstraZeneca injections delivered in Africa.
African nations “have no choice,” said Nkengasong, urging Malawi to use all of his shots after officials in the South African nation said they would burn 16,000 doses of AstraZeneca that expired in early April.
It is not clear whether Malawi will follow that advice.
The country administered less than half of the more than 500,000 doses it received via COVAX, prompting Victor Mithi, head of the Malawian Society of Doctors, to blame the misconceptions about vaccines.
“We are continually assuring Malawians that the vaccine is safe and that, once they feel something abnormal in addition to the usual post-vaccination symptoms, they can always go to the hospital and report,” he said.
An additional 1.26 million expected doses of COVAX at the end of May may be wasted if people continue to avoid the vaccine, said Shouts Simeza, president of the National Organization of Nurses and Midwives in Malawi, adding that one possible solution is to make mandatory vaccination for everyone who is eligible.
Trying to increase coverage, the government of Malawi relaxed the vaccine’s eligibility rules to include everyone aged 18 and over, after initially focusing on priority groups, such as health workers.
Uganda, an East African nation, which is also struggling to increase the distribution of vaccines among priority groups, may soon do the same, said Emmanuel Ainebyoona, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health. Ugandans under 50 have demonstrated interest in getting vaccinated, increasing the hope that the doses will not expire without use, he said.
Uganda received 964,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the only vaccine available in the country. But just over 230,000 doses have been administered since March 10.
Health officials planned to give at least 500,000 people their first injection in a first round of vaccinations aimed at frontline workers, people with underlying health problems and people aged 50 and over.
But in the midst of a slow launch, they are now catching up with popular “influencers”, celebrities like a kickboxer who was photographed receiving a photo last week.
“Acceptance is gradually improving,” said Ainebyoona, noting that “communication interventions” have proved necessary to get more Ugandans to adopt the vaccination campaign.
A few thousand people are vaccinated daily in centers set up across the country, including within regional hospitals. The local newspaper Daily Monitor recently reported that more than 280,000 doses are likely to expire in July, with the current average of about 6,000 injections per day.
Vaccination teams, with no official records of eligible residents, simply sit and wait for people who may not show up.