At least 79% of the African population would take a coronavirus vaccine with one in every five people across Africa still unsure of their readiness to take an injection, a survey conducted by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has affirmed.
“This survey is an eye-opener that provides critical scientific evidence to guide interventions by Africa CDC, the Member States and partners for optimisation of COVID-19 vaccine uptake across the continent,” said Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC.
The survey conducted in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to gauge the confidence levels in a vaccine for the virus found that four out of five people in 15 countries in Africa would take an injection.
Although a predominant majority 79 per cent of respondents in Africa would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it were deemed safe and effective, researchers were still worried about the effect the remaining 21 per cent of the population would likely have on the larger population.
Conducted between August and December 2020, the survey interviewed more than 15,000 adults, aged 18 years and above, across 15 African countries, said Prof. Heidi Larson, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The survey was conducted in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia and Uganda.
Data from the survey shows significant variations in willingness across countries and the five regions in the continent, from 94 per and 93 per cent, respectively, in Ethiopia and Niger to 65 per cent and 59 per cent, respectively, in Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a global decline in vaccine acceptability and uptake because of doubts about efficacy and safety and the spread of misinformation about vaccines, according to the Africa CDC.
“The pandemic has further exacerbated controversies around vaccines as a preventive measure against infectious diseases,” the Africa CDC said in a statement.
It said the study was therefore conducted to investigate public knowledge and perceptions about the pandemic and vaccine.
It was meant to identify knowledge gaps, cultural beliefs, and attitudes to inform interventions for pre-deployment of vaccines across the continent.
Overall, willingness, or not, to take a COVID-19 vaccine depended mostly on trust in vaccines as well as perceptions of its importance, safety and efficacy, the AU body said.
Safety was of utmost consideration; on average 18 per cent of respondents believed that vaccines generally are not safe and 25 per cent believed that a COVID-19 vaccine would be unsafe.
Older respondents, those who know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and those who live in rural areas are more inclined to take a COVID-19 vaccine than younger people, those who have not seen COVID-19 affect anyone, and those living in urban areas.
“Rejection of a COVID-19 vaccine appears to be linked to misinformation and disinformation, as most of those who said they would not take a vaccine believe that the disease is man-made, does not exist, or is exaggerated and does not pose a serious threat,” the CDC said.
Prof. Larson said some people think they were not at risk of being infected with the virus while some others believe that natural remedies and alternative medicines are safer than vaccines.
“Individuals who have had a positive COVID-19 test and are now well believe that they do not need a vaccine because they think they have become immune to the disease and can no longer be infected,” according to the survey.
Respondents generally mentioned the World Health Organisation, healthcare professionals, governments, pharmaceutical companies, Gavi, and Africa CDC as the trusted sources for approval in terms of safety and efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine.
These findings highlight the critical need for strategic engagement at the community level to address the long-term disapproval for vaccines and hesitancy to take a COVID-19 vaccine among some segments of the population.
They highlight the need for constructive education and awareness to provide essential information that will allow individuals to make informed decision to accept a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Engaging with communities and being responsive to their concerns and information needs around the COVID-19 vaccine will be crucial to building trust not only around COVID-19 vaccine but for vaccines in general,” said Prof. Larson, study co-lead and Director of The Vaccine Confidence Project at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.