“Africans are not anti-vaxxers,” says Lolem Ngong, of AMREF Health Africa, one of the speakers at the vaccine equity and hesitancy workshop hosted by the ACT Alliance Africa Forum on September 30 and co-convened, with strategic partners such as the All Africa Conference of Churches, Amref Health Africa, the Christian Council of Nigeria, the Network Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the WHO. The workshop drew more than 130 registrants. The final report is now available, as is a recording of the event.
“As a kid I knew the significance of my yellow book,” Lolem says. “We have innovated to make sure vaccines happen; why should COVID be different?” Africa’s success with child immunisation, recorded around the world in a small yellow book, shows that remote populations can be reached. Lolem also singled out the ACT Alliance Vaccine Equity Brief as an excellent blueprint for action.
Obstacles to vaccination
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Africa faces several obstacles. First is access to vaccines. “Globally enough vaccine is produced; the challenge is ensuring it reaches the right people,” says panelist Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki of the AllAfrica Conference of Churches. “Because of hoarding by rich countries, poor countries don’t get what they need.” Booster shots in wealthy countries will only increase this disparity.
Workshop speakers also noted the massive challenge of trying to reach 60-70% of a population of 1.2 billion people by September 2023, given that only 3-4% are now fully vaccinated.
Panelists noted that vaccine hesitancy, and issues of trust and safety will need to be addressed to reach vaccine targets.
Faith communities’ role
Africa’s faith actors have “massive health and community infrastructures” and are well-placed to assist in vaccine distribution and education, said panelists from the World Health Organization. “Honest and caring conversations” with those who are vaccine hesitant could be offered by faith actors. “Faith actors are able to reach those left behind and tackle misinformation,” added Dr. Mohamed Elsanousie of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers. African faith leaders’ access to government leaders could help government systems and policies respond to community needs.
A presentation by faith leaders from Nigeria and Zimbabwe and the feedback from breakout groups validated the role of Africa’s faith communities and faith leaders in vaccination outreach. Churches can be used as vaccine sites and faith communities are already leading by example.
“Although there are signs of the pandemic easing in the Global North, this issue is far from being resolved in Global South countries, especially in Africa,” said Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, ACT Alliance General Secretary, in his closing remarks. “Faith actors have a fundamental role to play in tackling misinformation, enhancing confidence and calling out vaccine apartheid.”
Workshop participants have finalized a Declaration drawing on the main messages and themes discussed at the webinar.