When Africans asked for COVID shots, they didn't get them. Now they don't want them

By Edward McAllister and Cooper Inveen
DAKAR/ACCRA (Reuters) - There is noise at Accra's Mamprobi clinic as children climb over their mothers as they wait for their measles vaccine. Outside, an area reserved for COVID-19 shots is empty. A health worker leans back in his chair and scrolls on a tablet.
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A woman waiting for her daughter to be vaccinated is fully aware of the dangers of measles: the high fever, the rash, the danger to her eyesight. But COVID-19? She has never heard of a single case.
The perception that COVID-19 poses no significant threat is widespread in Ghana's capital and elsewhere in Africa, whose young populations have suffered a fraction of the casualties that have pushed vaccination in places like Europe and America, where the disease broke through older population.
"I mean, Ghana has been spared from doing exactly what we're doing," said Nana Kwaku Addo, a 28-year-old construction worker in Accra. "I've heard people say it's common sense (to get vaccinated) but what about all the other countries that have taken it and people are still in lockdown."
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Only 17% of Africa's 1.3 billion population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 - compared to over 70% in some countries - partly because wealthier nations stockpiled supplies over the past year, when global demand was at its peak, to the chagrin of Africans Nations desperate for international supplies.
Now that the doses are finally arriving in force on the continent, vaccination rates are falling. The number of vaccinations administered fell by 35% in March, data from the World Health Organization shows, reversing a 23% increase in February. People are less afraid now. Misinformation about vaccines has spread.
"If we had gotten vaccines sooner, something like this wouldn't have happened so often," said Christina Odei, the Mamprobi Clinic's COVID-19 team leader, of Accra's low intake. "Initially everyone really wanted it, but we didn't have the vaccines."
That worries public health experts, who say that leaving such a large population unvaccinated increases the risk that new variants will emerge on the continent before they spread to regions like Europe, just as governments there are easing mask requirements and travel restrictions.
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In a sign of potential danger, cases of two Omicron subvariants have skyrocketed in recent weeks in South Africa, the continent's hardest-hit nation, prompting officials there to warn of a fifth wave of infections.
To increase uptake, countries are focusing on mobile vaccination campaigns, with teams visiting communities and offering doses on the spot.
But many African countries cannot afford the vehicles, fuel, coolers and salaries needed to run a national campaign, according to more than a dozen health officials, workers and experts in several countries. Meanwhile, donor funding has been slow to arrive, they said.
Rahab Mwaniki, the Africa coordinator for the People's Vaccine Alliance advocacy group, said it was a "big request" for Africans to prioritize the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines to protect others around the world when infection rates drop be low at home.
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"A lot of people say, 'You didn't help us.' They feel like the West has never really supported them," she added, stressing that Africans should still get vaccinated to protect themselves and others from new variants.
The story goes on

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