DAKAR, Senegal — The number of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered in Africa has fallen by more than 50% in the last three months, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, despite the fact that less than a quarter of all Africans have been vaccinated.
Despite the increased availability of vaccines on the continent, Africa still lags far behind the global average, with only 24% of the population having completed their primary COVID-19 vaccination series compared to 64% in all the world.
“The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, but while Africa lags far behind the rest of the world in achieving widespread protection, there is a dangerous gap that the virus can exploit to come back with a vengeance,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Only three African countries, Liberia, Mauritius and Seychelles, have vaccinated more than 70% of their population. Rwanda is expected to reach the benchmark soon, and four others have also reached 50%, the WHO said on Thursday.
Once COVID-19 vaccines became available in 2021, Western countries stockpiled available supplies, leaving many African countries last to receive doses. Some African countries also said doses donated by Western countries were shipped too close to their expiration dates to be fully used.
Africa now has adequate vaccines available, Moeti said Thursday. But as the number of cases has dropped, so has interest in getting vaccinated. Only 4,281 new cases were reported on the continent last week, about 1.3% of Africa’s peak during December 2021, the WHO said.
“Unfortunately, since vaccines have helped prevent serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, people are less afraid and also less willing to get vaccinated,” Moeti said.
Still, notable progress has been made, according to Aurelia Nguyen, special adviser to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. At the beginning of the year, there were 28 countries in Africa where vaccination rates were below 10%.
“And since the beginning of the year, 22 countries have passed this milestone,” Nguyen said. “We have Burkina Faso and Malawi who have become the latest countries to do it. We have Mali that is ready to cross the milestone of more than 10% coverage in the next few weeks.”