- African countries started rolling out the AstraZeneca jab in February.
- Countries in Europe suspending the jab will “clearly not be helpful,” Africa CDC’s director said.
- Vaccine hesitancy could do “irreversible damage” to Africa’s campaign, a public health expert said.
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Fragile confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine in Africa has been dealt a worrying blow by the European governments’ decision to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine.
This week, countries in Europe and elsewhere suspended the vaccine’s use while the European Medicines Agency (EMA) reviewed reports of blood clots.
The EMA concluded that the vaccine was safe on Thursday, and Germany, France, and other countries have started lifting the suspension on the shot.
But the short suspension might have already damaged public confidence in Africa.
“Why should I allow it [the AstraZeneca vaccine] to be used on me? Are we not human beings like those in Europe?” Peter Odongo, a resident of northern Uganda, told the Daily Monitor newspaper this week, AP News reported on Friday.
“The EU that produced the [AstraZeneca] vaccines has stopped using it, among them France, so this nonsense we cannot simply trust it,” Abdulkadir Osman, a resident of Somalia’s capital, said, Africa News reported on Wednesday.
“If many Europeans are refusing to take that vaccine, I would refuse as well. I don’t need more proof than that,” Saba Alene told the FT in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.
European countries suspended vaccinations as several African countries received the first doses through the COVAX scheme, a vaccine sharing program backed by the World Health Organisation and Gavi, the vaccine alliance.
In many cases, the AstraZeneca vaccine is the only option for low and middle-income countries.
COVAX delivered 14,5 million doses to African countries, according to AfricaNews. Ghana was the first, receiving 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in late February.
The WHO said it intends to deliver 237 million AstraZeneca doses to 142 countries by the end of May, Reuters reported on March 10.
But with the concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine, The Democratic Republic of Congo was among the countries that suspended its use.
Dr. Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the African Union Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, said in a tweet on Thursday that vaccine hesitancy could cause “irreparable damage” to Africa’s rollout.
“They hit on the one thing that could derail the entire global vaccination campaign,” saying that conspiracy theories are “running amock,” the Financial Times reported on Friday.
Confidence in the vaccine had already received a blow when AstraZeneca’s South African trial was suspended over concerns that it would not be effective against the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa.
The “unfortunate events” in Europe will “clearly not be helpful” to build public confidence and trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine and others, Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Thursday, AP News reported.
Nkengasong was speaking a couple of hours before the EMA announced the conclusion of its investigation.
In a statement to Insider on Friday, a Gavi spokeperson did not comment on hesitancy about the vaccine, but cited the confirmations from the WHO and EMA that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective.
They said that “given its proven effectiveness, [the AstraZeneca vaccine] will continue to play an important role in COVAX’s mission” in ending the crisis.
Africa CDC and WHO Africa were not available to comment before publication.
If a concerted effort is not quickly done to correct the loss of confidence, “we’re going to lose significant parts of the public that really need this vaccine,” Heidi Larson, an expert in vaccine confidence working at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine, told the FT.
The Africa CDC, the public health agency of the African Union, representing 55 states, and WHO have encouraged African countries to continue their vaccination.
“We are in a race against time,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa director, said in a briefing on Thursday, AfricaNews reported.
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