Amref Health Africa has embarked on a robust public education and awareness campaign to boost Covid-19 vaccine uptake in East African countries.
There is overdependency on the international support for the vaccines, but even with supply, uptake is too low, an issue that continues to affect vaccination programmes.
Dr Shaban Mugerwa, the Principal Medical Officer, Division of Integrated Epidemiology Surveillance and Public Health Emergencies at the Ministry of Health, Uganda attributed hesitancy in vaccine uptake across East Africa to anti-vaccines campaigns.
According to the official, the globe experienced anti-vaccine campaigns, after World Health Organisation’s (WHO) pre-qualified emergency approval.
A number of individuals questioned how quick it took to manufacture the vaccines, as compared to other vaccines that take more than two years.
“It has been difficult to counter anti-vaccine campaigns that raise concerns on safety and efficacy of the vaccines,” Dr Mugerwa said.
Other contributors of low vaccines uptake in the region he said are misinformation and disinformation, more so on social media platforms.
“There is the circulation of fake news about the vaccines for example allegations of them causing infertility, blood clots, an issue that has seen many shy away, irrespective of their availability,” he regretted.
To counter misinformation and boost vaccine uptake, the official noted the need to revamp up public education through community involvement.
Mugwere spoke during a meeting that brought up technical and health stakeholders across the East African community.
He added that countries across the region should involve civil society leaders, clergies, and faith-based to boost uptake of the vaccines.
“Robust campaigns should be conducted to demystify myths from facts about the vaccines. The propaganda is annoying, more so about side effects,” Dr Mugwere observed.
Though African countries are faced with vaccine inequities, he said it is worrying that people are shying away from the donated ones.
In Uganda, he said a surge in cases and deaths contributed to increased uptake of the jab.
“There is overdependency on Covax facility for supply of the vaccines, but when they are shipped, and the little we receive, they are not consumed. This is terrible. How shall we then attain herd immunity to bring our economy back to normalcy?” he posed.
Uganda has administered at least 1.4 million doses, representing a population of about 1.7 per cent.
Cumulative Covid-19 infections in Uganda are 121, 296, and 3,092 deaths.
Mr Eric Achola, communications and advocacy technical advisor for the Coalition for Health Research and Development (CHReaD) project under AMREF Africa, said the campaign is aimed at reducing hospitalisation and death by creating herd immunity.
According to Amref Health Africa, South Sudan, has low uptake of vaccines, while DRC is yet to roll out a vaccination programme.
In June this year, South Sudan donated a consignment of 72,000 doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines to Kenya, via Covax facility, after failing to administer them among her population due to hesitancy.
“We are experiencing a worrying trend where irrespective of receiving international support to boost the Covid-19 vaccination programme, people are not turning out to be vaccinated,” said Achola.
As of September 7, 2021, the data cumulative number of coronavirus cases in East Africa was 891, 393, with Ethiopia and Kenya being the most affected.
According to vaccination data of September 6, Kenya was leading in vaccination, with 2, 262, 528 vaccines administered, followed by Ethiopia with 2,575,787, Rwanda with 2,569, 906, and Uganda had administered 1,395, 318 doses.
Achola spoke in Machakos, during a conference that brought together delegates from across the East Africa region to find a way forwarding boosting the vaccination programme.
The forum included government officials, health experts, civil society leaders, and clergies.
The objective of the initiative is to increase access and awareness to Covid-19 vaccines and to look at equity and structural barriers to the access of these vaccines.
“Everyone is talking about vaccine hesitancy but deep within our countries there are structural challenges for instance gender barriers that are impeding access to these vaccines,” said Achola.