African Vaccination Week is observed every year in the last week of April. This year’s theme is “Long Life for All.” The goal of the initiative is to underscore the importance of immunization as well as raise awareness about different diseases and the vaccines used to treat them.
Immunization week is particularly important for Africa as the continent relies heavily on vaccine imports. Africa struggles with challenges of spreadable diseases and other healthcare issues that are not as prevalent or dangerous in other parts of the world. And yet, Africa imports nearly 99% of its routine vaccines.
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, less than 20% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated against the illness, lagging woefully behind the global average of 58%, the World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The week provides the opportunity to showcase the importance of vaccines in all our lives, and how they protect us, young and old, against more than 25 vaccine-preventable diseases,” Dr. Moeti said.
She added that more than a year into the COVID-19 global vaccine rollout, “Africa is benefiting – if later than the rest of the world – from the speedy, efficient development of vaccines to curb the virus. There are currently 10 COVID-19 vaccines available through the COVAX Facility, with more in the research and development pipeline.”
According to her, although 480 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Africa to date, making it the biggest vaccine rollout in the history of the continent, only 18.7% of the African population is fully vaccinated.
There are global efforts to aid Africa in the fight against COVID-19 as there have been with previous outbreaks and pandemics, but the key issue for African nations is timely access to aid and vaccine imports.
However, the spotlight on COVID-19 has overshadowed the importance and focus on routine vaccines for Africans, the WHO says.
“Since 2020, routine immunization has been negatively impacted by COVID-19 containment measures, leading to tens of millions of infants in Africa missing out on essential childhood vaccinations,” they said in the same statement.
Some of the essential childhood vaccinations include but are not limited to the Diphtheria, Tetanus toxoid and Pertussis (whooping cough)-containing vaccine, as well as the measles vaccine.
In an effort to highlight these issues in African Vaccination Week, health officials call on everyone to complete vaccinations for COVID and other diseases while calling on parents to ensure their children do not miss out on key immunizations.