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Key findings
  • On average across 16 countries, more than eight in 10 citizens (84%) said they were “somewhat well informed” or “very well informed” about the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to combat it.
  • One-third (33%) of citizens said a member of their household had lost a job, a business, or other primary source of income due to the pandemic, while 6% said a household member had become ill with COVID-19.
  • Fewer than four in 10 citizens (37%) said they trust their governments “somewhat” or “a lot” to ensure the safety of COVID-19 vaccines offered to them.
  • On average across the 16 countries, not quite half (48%) of respondents said they were “somewhat likely” or “very likely” to try to get vaccinated, while 51% said they were unlikely to take the vaccine.
  • Almost six in 10 citizens (57%) said they believe that prayer is more effective than vaccines in preventing COVID-19 infection.

Modelling by the World Health Organization (WHO) projects about 166.2 million COVID-19 cases and 23,000 deaths in Africa during 2022, a 94% drop in COVID-19 deaths compared to 2021 (350,000). About 70,000 deaths are expected if we encounter a deadlier variant of the
coronavirus (World Health Organization, 2022a).

The WHO attributes the drastic decline in estimated COVID-19 deaths to “increasing vaccination, improved pandemic response, and natural immunity from previous infections.” However, only 21.2% of Africans were fully vaccinated by the end of August 2022 (Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022), one-third the global average (62.56%) and far short of the 70% target set for mid-2022 (World Health Organization, 2022b; 2021). By June 2022, only three African countries – Mauritius, Seychelles, and Rwanda – had achieved or almost achieved the global 70% target (World Health Organization, 2022c).

 

When COVID-19 vaccines first came into use, Africa struggled to access and acquire them, with some African leaders condemning what they termed “vaccine nationalism” and travel bans imposed on several African countries (Mlaba, 2021). But with hundreds of millions of
doses made available through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, bilateral deals, and donations, the continent has enjoyed an increasing supply of vaccines since mid-2021. To reduce dependence on imported vaccines,
10 manufacturing companies in Africa began local production of vaccines in 2021, and five more are expected to join this year. But low patronage of their vaccines threatens the sustainability of these facilities (Kagina, 2022).

 

For Africa, the challenge has shifted from vaccine acquisition to vaccine administration. A central issue is vaccine hesitancy. The WHO describes vaccine hesitancy as the refusal or delay in acceptance of vaccines despite the availability of vaccine services (World Health Organization, 2019). In Africa, false anti-vaccination narratives on social media have fuelled concerns about the safety and efficacy of vaccines (Cubbon & Dotto, 2021). Other causes of vaccine hesitancy include beliefs in religious protection and lack of trust in governments and health authorities to ensure the safety of vaccines (Alhassan et al., 2021; American Association of Family Physicians, 2021; Maina, 2022).

 

Afrobarometer surveys in 16 African countries in 2020/2021 show that while awareness of the
pandemic and efforts to mitigate it was high, only about half of citizens said they were likely
to try to get vaccinated. A majority of Africans said they don’t trust their governments to
ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, and this lack of confidence has a significant impact
on people’s willingness to accept vaccines. Many said they think prayer is more effective
than vaccines in preventing the coronavirus infection.

Josephine Appiah-Nyamekye Sanny

Josephine is the knowledge translation manager for Afrobarometer.