The hope for Africa’s healthy future is on vaccines
Vaccines aren’t a silver bullet but will help the continent progress
The World Immunization Week – celebrated every year in the last week of April – is here again to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) immunization saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful health interventions. However, there are still nearly 20 million children in the world today who are not getting the vaccines they need, and many miss out on vital vaccines during adolescence, adulthood and into old age.
In most African nations, many children missed out on their immunization schedule against diseases like measles and polio because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many parents feared visiting the health facilities with a belief that they were red zones during the pandemic. An earlier interview by Africa Ringer revealed that most mothers and pregnant women missed routine clinics as the entire world and respective ministries of health shifted their focus on new vaccines to protect against COVID-19. This could put them at risk of serious diseases like measles, tetanus and polio.
According to WHO vaccines have protected us against diseases that threaten lives for over 200 years. With their help, we can progress without the burden of diseases like smallpox and polio, which cost humanity hundreds of millions of lives.
In Africa, there is urgent need for more COVID-19 vaccine supplies as deliveries begin to slow down and initial batches are nearly exhausted in some countries. WHO has highlighted that the continent has so far administered 7.7 million vaccine doses mainly to high-risk population groups.
Forty-four African countries have received vaccines through the COVAX Facility or through donations and bilateral agreements, and 32 of them have begun vaccinations. The COVAX Facility has supplied nearly 16 million doses to 28 countries since launching deliveries to the continent on 24 February. Most countries that received the vaccine like Kenya and Rwanda for instance have made significant progress in reaching high-risk populations targeted in the initial phase of the rollout, including health workers, elderly people and people with conditions such as diabetes, which make them particularly vulnerable. Ghana has administered over 470 000 doses, while Rwanda has delivered 345 000 doses. In Angola, health workers account for more than half of those vaccinated.
While at all these, let respective ministries of health not forget about immunization which has been disrupted in some areas sue to the Covid-19 pandemic. As Africa rollout Covid-19 vaccination, it is also the time to restore routine immunization services to ensure children do not miss life saving shots. The way to go about it is by addressing immunity gaps caused by COVID-19 response and expanding immunization services to missed (zero-dose) communities as UNICEF recently pointed out.
There is also the need to restore the safety of the vaccines by addressing the misinformation by listening keenly to what is being churned out there in social platforms and responding appropriately to restore public confidence. Another way would be to carry out awareness campaigns and community engagement services. This would be a step in the right direction towards ensuring that children do not miss life saving immunization and the society also get the much needed Covid-19 vaccine.