Africans find that vaccines against COVID-19 are less safe than other vaccines

National launch program of COVID-19 at Eka Kotebe Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia / CC BY-NC-ND

A report released this month on vaccination perceptions in 15 African countries showed that in almost all subjects, the new vaccine against COVID-19 was less safe than other vaccines.

The only exception was Ethiopia – with the largest proportion of people willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine, at 94%. There, 14% of people consider vaccines generally unsafe, while only 12% consider COVID-19 vaccines to be unsafe. According to the lower part of the spectrum, only 59% of respondents in the Democratic Republic of Congo were ready to be vaccinated against coronavirus, according to research data.

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Conducted by Opinion Research Business International in collaboration with the Vaccine Trust Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on behalf of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study asked 15,000 people in 15 countries about their opinions on COVID-19 vaccines between August and December.

Respondents who felt that not all vaccines were safe, compared with subjects who thought that COVID-19 would not be safe. Source: Africa CDC

Men, older respondents, and people living in rural areas were more willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Health experts said there is a need for continuous monitoring of how countries start introducing vaccines.

However, it found that 79% of respondents would accept a vaccine that is considered safe and effective. By comparison, studies conducted in the United States in December found that less than half of adults planned to be vaccinated against COVID-19, up 39.4% three months earlier.

In fact, 87% of Ethiopians said they were now more likely to be vaccinated at all because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with approximately half of respondents in all countries surveyed saying the same.

Readiness to accept the new COVID-19 vaccine across Africa has been reported. Source: Africa CDC

Skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine was high among certain demographic categories. Young, unemployed and those living in cities were more skeptical about COVID-19 vaccines. Women showed a higher level of confidence in the vaccine, but reported greater skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccine.

“[EU countries’ vaccinations pause] obviously it won’t help … in building public confidence and trust in the use of that particular vaccine and other vaccines. “

– John Nkengasong, Director, African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

More than 50% of respondents said they felt the threat of the virus was excessive – a trend more pronounced in countries such as Niger, Sudan and Nigeria, where people say they have less respect for protective measures such as hand washing. Conspiracy theories – saying that COVID-19 was made by man or that, for example, it does not exist at all – vary greatly depending on the country. Only 6% of respondents said they did not think the disease existed, but that number is rising in Nigeria to 18%.

Agreement on “The threat of coronavirus is exaggerated.” Source: Africa CDC

Of the total number of people surveyed, 49% believe that COVID-19 is a planned foreign actor event, and 45% believe that people in Africa have been used as “guinea pigs” in vaccine trials.

Over half of the people surveyed thought it was either not very good or not informed at all about the development of vaccines.

“When it comes to building self-confidence, it’s a job that has to be continuous and it’s all our job,” said John Nkengasong, CDC’s director for Africa.

More about the introduction of the vaccine against COVID-19:

► Billions of COVID-19 vaccines, one problem: who will deliver them?

► Countries that do not want the COVID-19 vaccine

Since the study was conducted, African countries have launched vaccination campaigns, mainly using doses of vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, which were received through the global COVAX initiative. Nkengasong said more research would be needed as implementation continues across the continent.

This month, several European countries stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine after reports of blood clots. In Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo followed suit, delaying its introduction after receiving 1.7 million doses through the COVAX plant.

Last month, South Africa announced a temporary pause in the introduction of the AstraZeneca vaccine after research showed it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate cases of the COVID-19 variant, which was first detected in the country and accounts for more than 90% of cases there.

Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Cyprus and the Netherlands have since announced plans to continue using the vaccine after the European Medical Administration assessed it as safe and effective.

This week, U.S. health officials warned that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information in the results of testing its vaccine, casting doubt on published efficacy rates.

Although many people seem to doubt the AstraZeneca vaccine, he hopes it will not further increase concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director for Africa at the World Health Organization.

Nkengasong said the pause of European countries “obviously will not help … in building public confidence and trust in the use of that particular vaccine and other vaccines.”

He added that while these events are unfortunate, they are also not unusual.

“We saw this in the HIV pandemic. We have seen this in the Ebola situation. “When the vaccines were first introduced for Ebola, it was not obvious that the communities would get them,” Nkengasong said. He predicted that the initial hesitation with receiving vaccines would be accompanied by greater self-confidence as more and more people would be immunized.

“As we know, today the world has suffered … about 2.6 million deaths due to COVID,” he said – a figure that has grown to over 2.7 million in the meantime. “And no one died from getting the vaccine.”

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