African expert calls for tackling vaccination hesitancy

– There is a need for African governments to invest in community outreach programs aimed at combating vaccine hesitancy that has undermined the fight against infectious diseases including COVID-19, an African expert said at the start of African Vaccination Week.

The African Vaccination Week that will run from April 24-30 with the slogan of “vaccinated communities, healthy communities” is expected to rally the public towards embracing routine immunization as a means to reduce the continent’s disease burden.

Tunji Funsho, a cardiologist and member of Nigeria’s Presidential Task Force on Polio said during an online interview that targeted messaging is key to debunk myths and misinformation that have derailed vaccine uptake in Africa.

He said that African governments should mobilize key stakeholders including community and faith leaders, educationists, healthcare workers and investors to promote awareness on the role of vaccines in combating emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19.

The week-long event will reaffirm Africa’s commitment to scale up immunization against diseases that have exerted pressure on the continent’s public health systems besides retarding economic growth.

He said that routine immunization hastened the realization of Africa’s polio-free status in August 2020, adding that the continent is on course to contain other vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, yellow fever, and meningitis.

“I believe that the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa region’s wild poliovirus-free certification offers the rest of the world a template for how to address, and ultimately conquer a vaccine-preventable disease,” said Funsho.

Polio vaccination campaigns that temporarily paused in many African countries at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 have resumed, boosting the immunity of vulnerable groups like children.

He said that strategic partnership and robust outreach that led to the success of polio vaccination in Africa should be emulated to boost inoculation against vector-borne diseases that are to blame for high infant and maternal deaths in the continent.