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Concerns as COVID-19 vaccination rollout stagnates in Africa

By Chukwuma Muanya (Lagos) and Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja)
21 October 2022   |   5:29 am
World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, said the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) vaccination coverage has stagnated in half of African countries, while the number of doses administered monthly declined

(FILES) This file illustration photo taken on November 17, 2020 in London shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer. – Pfizer and BioNTech said on February 1, 2022 that they began submitting a formal request to US health regulators for emergency use of their Covid vaccine for children aged over six months and under five years. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

WHO says monthly administration declined by half since July
• ‘Why 500m persons may develop heart disease, others’

World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, said the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) vaccination coverage has stagnated in half of the African countries, while the number of doses administered monthly declined by over 50 per cent between July and September.

Analysis released by WHO during a virtual press briefing shows that although Africa is far from reaching the year-end global target of protecting 70 per cent of the population, modest progress has been made in vaccinating high-risk population groups, particularly the elderly.

In another development, the world health body said about 500 million people globally may develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), due to physical inactivity, between 2020 and 2030.

The Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said: “The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is within sight, but as long as Africa lags far behind the rest of the world in reaching widespread protection, there is a dangerous gap, which the virus can exploit to come roaring back.

“The biggest priority is to shield our most vulnerable populations from the worst effect of COVID-19. On this front, we are seeing some progress, as countries step up efforts to boost coverage among health workers, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.”

Liberian Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah; and the Special Adviser of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, Ms. Aurelia Nguyen, joined Moeti at the briefing.

Also, from WHO Regional Office for Africa were the Polio Programme Coordinator, Dr. Modjirom Ndoutabe; Vaccines Introduction Medical Officer, Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe; and Health Emergency Officer, Acute Events Management Unit, Dr. Patrick Otim.

Moeti blamed the decline in COVID-19 vaccination on vaccine hesitancy and a low-risk perception of the pandemic.

“Over the past 12 weeks, Africa has recorded the lowest case numbers since the start of the pandemic. In the week ending on October 16, 4,281 new cases were reported, representing 1.3 per cent of the peak of the Omicron-fuelled surge of December 2021. No country is currently in resurgence or on high alert and deaths remain low across the region, with a case fatality rate of 2.1 per cent.

“The response to multiple public health emergencies is also affecting the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Outbreaks of polio, measles, yellow fever and now Ebola have shifted priorities in the affected countries,” she said.

The WHO analysis also showed that the percentage of people with complete primary vaccination series (one dose for Johnson and Johnson and two doses for other vaccines) has barely budged in 27 out of 54 African countries in the past two months (August 17 to October 16).

The Guardian gathered that, in September, 23 million doses were given, 18 per cent less than the number registered in August, and 51 per cent less than the 47 million doses administered in July.

WHO, in its first-ever Global Status report on physical inactivity released yesterday, put the cost of this development at $27 billion yearly, if governments fail to take urgent action to encourage more physical activity among their citizens.

According to the report, the economic burden of physical inactivity is significant and the cost of treating new cases of preventable NCDs will near $300 billion by 2030, about $27 billion yearly.

The report, which measures the extent to which governments implement recommendations to increase physical activity across all ages and abilities, revealed that data from 194 countries indicates that, overall, progress is slow and that countries need to accelerate the development and implementation of policies to increase levels of physical activity, thereby prevent disease and reduce the burden on already overwhelmed health care systems.

It showed that less than 50 per cent of countries have a national physical activity policy, of which less than 40 per cent are operational, while only 30 per cent have national physical activity guidelines for all age groups.

According to WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, “We need more countries to scale up implementation of policies to support people to be more active through walking, cycling, sport, and other physical activities. The benefits are huge, not only for the physical and mental health of individuals, but also for societies, environments, and economies.

“We hope countries and partners will use this report to build more active, healthier and fairer societies for all.”