As we reflect on the last 18 months of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, the largest mass vaccination campaign in history, what has become evident is the complexities of immunising communities, equitably and at scale. Beyond the vaccine supply chain challenges, the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine has also highlighted the need for robust demand generation strategies for vaccine uptake, especially where the target is adult populations.
With several new vaccines on the horizon, we need to assess what has worked and where we have fallen short so that we are ready to deploy innovations like the malaria vaccine once available.
These lessons are especially critical given that just 20 percent of our total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and routine immunisations have been lagging globally. To protect African countries from future waves of Covid-19, we must vaccinate at least 90 percent of the most at-risk populations against Covid-19 as a first step, and increase routine vaccinations across the region so we don’t see the resurgence of diseases such as measles and polio. To do this, we need a better understanding of what prevents people from getting vaccinated, and we need to devise local solutions across the region to improve the uptake of life-saving vaccines.
Tailored solutions led by local leaders and health officials will allow communities to ramp up coverage for Covid-19 vaccines, as well as for other essential vaccines and health services. Ministries of Health and African-led organisations have long worked to create context-specific approaches to pressing health challenges, like in the HIV and Ebola response.
We cannot achieve our ambitious goals in isolation: we have to learn from each other and share strategies, best practices and resources with our neighbours. Every family, every community and every country has faced unprecedented challenges in the past two years, and if we can come together to share our experiences, challenges, and ideas, we can uncover similarities, create solutions, and build a healthier Africa for all.
Programmes like the Vaccination Access Network (VAN), a peer-to-peer learning initiative backed by The Rockefeller Foundation’s Global Vaccine Initiative (GVI), are critical to helping us develop solutions nurtured by community knowledge and support countries with increase vaccination rates. At monthly intra-country conversations and cross-country discussions, the network brings together Ministry of Health officials, partners, and other key actors across Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda who share lessons learned and best practices for boosting local demand for Covid-19 vaccines.
This model works: participants are able to surface their needs and challenges while sharing learnings with their regional counterparts to boost Covid-19 vaccine demand locally. Following a recent session focused on understanding barriers to vaccine uptake, the Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) at Makerere University in Kampala is now working to train local champions to speak with community members, answer their questions, and encourage vaccination.
Our solutions must be as adaptable and resilient as Covid-19 has proved to be. We have the expertise to increase vaccinations; now we must share what we know and learn from one another to design and implement locally driven, data-based approaches that generate vaccine demand in sub-Saharan Africa. Only then can we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic stronger, with health systems better equipped to respond to other threats and protect the health of all Africans.
Ms Wadzanayi Muchenje, Strategic Partnerships and Health Lead, Africa Regional Office, The Rockefeller Foundation