MEMPHIS, Tennessee — As the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines hit the world’s stage, medical professionals and world leaders continue to fight for equity in the vaccine distribution process, especially for disadvantaged countries like Africa. Africa has a history of widespread vaccine hesitancy, in some part due to misinformation. However, Africa plays a crucial part in the eventual end of the COVID-19 pandemic and the development of global trust in the COVID-19 vaccine. The Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP) is working to ensure higher rates of vaccine acceptance in Africa and throughout the globe.
COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Wavered
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine acceptance in Africa wavered following a public statement by French researcher, Jean-Paul Mira, who proposed conducting vaccine trials in Africa, “where there are no masks, no treatment, no resuscitation.” This very statement initiated a shift in attitudes toward the COVID-19 vaccine in Africa.
The French researcher’s comment led to protests and public outcry in Africa, even driving soccer star Didier Drogba to denounce the researcher on Twitter, stating that Africa “is not a testing lab.” These attitudes likewise dominated the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa, where protests erupted. Demonstrators cried out, “We are not guinea pigs,” and “Vaccine not safe,” in hopes of denouncing the long-established idea of Africa’s inferiority on the global stage.
Rebuilding Vaccine Confidence in Africa
Despite facing low vaccine acceptance rates at the beginning of the pandemic, several African countries are now seeing more widespread willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine. As of December 2020, an average of 79% of survey respondents in Africa would take a COVID-19 vaccine if it was considered safe and effective, according to the Africa CDC.
The percentage of respondents who stated they would not take the vaccine based their responses on misinformation and false perceptions. Some believe COVID-19 is man-made or exaggerated. Additionally, people who tested positive now believe that they are permanently immune. Although misinformation did result in about one-fifth of respondents declining the vaccine, the respondents who would take the vaccine were able to cite reliable sources as a means of their confidence. These include the CDC, WHO, government authorities and healthcare professionals who have been working endlessly to provide support.
The Vaccine Confidence Project
One example of an organization working to improve vaccine education and confidence globally is the Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP). VCP has hubs in the United States, Canada, Asia-Pacific and Africa. According to the VCP website, “vaccine confidence concerns the belief that vaccination – and by extension, the providers and range of private sector and political entities behind it – serves the best health interests of the public and its constituents.” VCP’s commitment to increasing vaccine literacy globally is a commitment to protect the global population through immunity, which will also help to reignite global economies.
Due in part to the work of the VCP, vaccine acceptance in Africa is improving. As vaccine literacy improves, rates of acceptance improve too. Vaccine acceptance is vital for the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines in Africa and across the globe.
– Johnnie Walton