The involvement of opinion leaders in enhancing the understanding of Covid-19 vaccines holds the greatest promise in removing barriers to vaccine uptake in the African region, according to regional health experts that attended a two-day webinar on strategies to improve Covid-19 vaccines roll-out and uptake in COMESA Member States.
Health sector stakeholders in the webinar named vaccine hesitancy and delivery as key barriers to vaccine uptake in the region. The event was organized by COMESA and the Africa Centre for Disease Control on 4 – 5 August 2021 for Member States to share their experiences on the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination.
In attendance were government officials led by Permanent Secretaries, health professionals, international partners, civil society organizations, regional economic communities among others. Rwanda vaccine distribution strategy plan was cited as a best case-study for having vaccinated over 380,000 people in three weeks after receiving its first consignment of 350,000 doses.
Speaking when he opened the webinar, Rwanda Minister of Health Dr. Daniel Ngamije, said strong leadership from the highest level, efficient coordination mechanism, effective partnerships and community engagement, using opinion leaders as success factors to vaccine rollout and uptake.
“There is a cost to pay in containing the Covid 19. Not doing what is required will cost more. It is a matter of time for this to become obvious for those still undermining the impact of this pandemic,” he said.
As a way forward, Member States were called upon to support the implementation of the African CDC programme on Saving Lives, Economies and Livelihood Trusted Vaccines, which focuses on vaccines procurement, strengthened in-country vaccines logistics and roll-out, establishing vaccination centres, community engagements, monitoring side effects, genomics surveillance, digital support, and technical assistance.
The meeting called on the Member States to support the new Africa CDC Public Health Order which focuses on strengthening public health institutions and public health workforce, expanding manufacturing of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics and respectful action-oriented partnerships
COMESA Secretary General, Ms Chileshe Kapwepwe encouraged Member States to learn from each other and to adopt strategies to improve vaccine awareness and overcome existing barriers to vaccine uptake and roll out, despite the challenges faced in accessing vaccines due to limited global supply.
She congratulated Egypt, for commencing manufacturing of Sinovac vaccine, and other member States such as Rwanda, which are preparing to localize vaccine manufacturing.
“This is a great achievement in addressing challenges related to vaccine equity. They are examples of the existing political will in the Member States to boost capacity of local manufacturing of vaccines, other medicines, and health technology,” she said.
In his address, presented by his deputy Dr. Ahmed Ouma, the African CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong said 51 Member States in Africa had started vaccinating their people with over 61 million people vaccinated. Out of this number only 18.7 million people have completed the vaccination.
“Generally, Africa has administered 5.18 vaccine doses per 100 people compared to 53.50 globally, in which about 46 Member States have less than 10% vaccine coverage,” he said.
Dr. Ouma, expressed concern that many COMESA Member States were currently reporting multiple COVID 19 variants of concerns with at least eight reporting Alpha, Beta, and Delta, five States reporting Alpha, four reporting both Alpha & Beta, one reporting Alpha, and three have not reported any variant of concern.
The forum addressed among others, vaccine hesitancy, Adverse Event Following Immunization, strategies on vaccine rollout, risk communication and community engagement activities among others. Besides Rwanda, other countries that shared their experiences included Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.