Africa is seeing a rise in the shipment of vaccine doses to the continent, but only one in four of its health workers has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the World Health Organisation regional office said on Thursday.
The most common reasons for the low vaccination rate among health workers on the continent of about 1.2 billion people includes vaccine hesitancy and the unavailability of vaccine services, especially in rural areas, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Africa director, told reporters.
It is a direct contrast with the situation in developed countries. A recent WHO study found that more than 80% of health and care workers in 22 mostly high-income countries have been fully vaccinated.
The low vaccination rate among health workers in Africa "puts at risk not only their own health and wellbeing but also that of the patients that they look after," Moeti warned, charging countries to "urgently speed up the rollout of vaccines to those on the frontlines."
Africa has an acute shortage of health workers.
Across many countries in Africa where healthcare is not easily accessible, governments are relying on health centers in various communities to administer doses especially to those in rural areas.
But many health workers, including those working in communities, still have "concerns over vaccine safety and adverse side effects," the WHO regional director Moeti said.
In Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, only 300,000 - or 18% - of its 1.6 million health workers have been fully vaccinated while Lesotho, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe are among the countries with the highest vaccination rate of health workers in the continent.
A recent study also found that only 40% of health workers intended to receive the vaccine while less than 50% hope to get their shot in Ethiopia, WHO said.
To drive the vaccination rate among health workers in Nigeria, nurses and midwives need to be more involved in the vaccination process to get many of them vaccinated, according to the national president of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives.
With that and through health education, "many people will be convinced" to take the vaccine, Michael Nnachi said. "When the nurses are directly involved, we can achieve more."
Just about 7% of Africa's population has been fully vaccinated, mainly because of delays in vaccine supplies and vaccine hesitancy, Moeti said.
But after challenging months in getting needed supplies, Africa is now seeing "an acceleration in the availability of vaccines."
As more doses are arriving on the continent, more countries are introducing mandates - often targeting government workers and public places - to increase the vaccination rate.