Africa Steps up Targeted COVID-19 Vaccination of Most at-risk people

ADDIS ABABA – Africa is intensifying COVID-19 vaccination of high-risk population groups with some promising signs, says the World Health Organization (WHO), after nearly 50% of health workers and people over the age of 60 are fully vaccinated against the virus in countries that reported data to the UN agency.

The data from June 2022 from 31 countries reporting on COVID-19 vaccinations of high-risk groups shows a significant increase compared with the end of December 2021 when only 33% of health workers and 10% of seniors were fully vaccinated. 

WHO recommends 90% vaccination coverage for health workers and 80% coverage for people over 60.

Only two African countries, Mauritius and Seychelles, have fully vaccinated 70% of their total population, so far while Rwanda is expected to achieve the target by the end of the month based on the current uptake pace.  

However, Africa has largely youthful demography, with 45% of the continent’s population under the age of 18. 

In a bid to use vaccines strategically, most countries are targeting their adult population. WHO is recommending to countries with low vaccination coverage to focus on high-priority groups – health workers, older adults, and people with comorbidities. 

The continent’s coverage of people over 18 years is estimated at 34%, significantly higher than the 18% full coverage in the general population. Nine countries have fully vaccinated more than 70% or their adult population, while 21 have reached more than 40% of adults. 

“Having been beset by poor access to doses, costly delays, and shortfalls, Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination progress so far is no mean feat,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. 

Moeti said Africa’s youthful population has helped the continent weather the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“While protecting young people at high-risk of COVID-19 is paramount, focusing efforts on vaccinating older people, health workers, and other vulnerable populations will ensure we stay a step ahead of the virus,” she added.

To date, at least 31 countries have planned mass vaccination campaigns until the end of the year. 

Learning from the experience of HIV testing and treatment, provider-initiated COVID-19 vaccination should be offered in primary health care and in special units offering care to people with comorbidities such as HIV, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer, the WHO said. 

Over the past week, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Africa marginally increased following a sustained three-week decline. 

This slight uptick was due to the recent surge in cases reported in East and North Africa, according to WHO. 

As of 13th of June 2022, there were 11.9 million COVID-19 cases in Africa, including 254 442 deaths.