As African countries gear up for COVID-19 vaccination, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls for increased collaboration with communities to enhance the uptake of vaccines once they become available.
A 10-point vaccine readiness assessment tool for the 47 countries in WHO African Region finds that progress by countries in bolstering community engagement is only at 12%, far below the optimal score of at least 80%. Community engagement – a crucial aspect for vaccine uptake – is among the least advanced categories in the assessment tool.
Other key areas of the assessment tool are: planning and coordination, resource mobilization, vaccine regulation, service delivery, training and supervision, monitoring and evaluation, vaccine logistics, vaccine safety and surveillance.
"The success of any immunization campaign hinges on communities' trust and acceptance. It is vital that we equip them with the right information, allay any fears and address concerns," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Engaging communities increases the likelihood that they will take the lead on issues affecting them, eases access and use of services. It also facilitates comprehension and access to information, enables feedback and, critically for COVID-19 vaccination, helps in understanding vaccine safety and addressing possible adverse events following immunization.
"Vaccines are our best hope of ending this pandemic. While all the efforts being made for successful immunization campaigns are critical, without community support they can easily flounder," said Dr Moeti.
When COVID-19 vaccines become available, it is expected that they will be provided first to the most vulnerable and those at the highest risk. Initial groups will likely include frontline health workers, older people and adults with underlying conditions such heart disease or diabetes.
The initial COVID-19 vaccine supplies will be limited, as such will not be available to everyone right away. WHO and other immunization partners are providing technical support to countries in the African region to prepare for a successful COVID-19 vaccination rollout. Through the COVAX Facility, WHO and partners are working with governments and vaccine manufacturers to procure COVID-19 vaccine doses to cover 20% of the African population, initially focusing on those at the highest risk.