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Covid Third Wave Threatens Unvaccinated Africa

Jul 22, 2021 10:00AM ● By Belinda Nzeribe

A problematic vaccine rollout, scarcity of vaccines, plus a sudden and sharp increase in coronavirus cases - these are factors that could trigger a deadly third wave in Africa. In spite of the puzzling low death rates in the continent when compared with the rest of the world, a Covid jab gap can allow for contagious variants and a continental explosion of illness and deaths.

Generally, in many African countries, vaccine rollout has been bogged by shortages and access. Vaccine consumption is poor in Nigeria, with the country grappling to protect its estimated 200 million population. Currently, almost two million Nigerians have received both doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine across the states. Although these jab numbers are quite low, Nigeria boasts one of the highest vaccination rates across Africa. But the country will need to fully inoculate about 60% of its population to reach herd immunity. Three issues stand in the way of vaccine consumption – shortages, low uptake, and funding shortfalls. 

Vaccine Shortages: Inequities in Vaccine Allocation

Before the vaccines were produced, experts predicted that the richer, developed countries would quickly purchase and hoard billions of vaccines, leading to an imbalance in the allocation of doses to developing countries. This inequity in vaccine distribution is worrisome, as Covid-19 is still ravaging countries and Nigeria is not out of the woods yet. Covax, the global effort to boost vaccine access in low-income nations, is now urging wealthier countries to share at least 1 billion surplus Covid-19 vaccines with poorer countries. 

In the first batch of vaccines donated to Nigeria, just 4 million doses of AstraZeneca were used to kickoff its vaccination drive. Some 41 million doses pledged to the country are expected to arrive in August or September (delays often occur). While people wait, the Delta variant could trigger a third wave in the country. Zimbabwe just imposed a level 4 strict lockdown to contain its third wave of the virus, and has also intensified its vaccination program.

It is instructive to learn that an estimated 11 billion doses are required to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population. Only about 1.7 billion doses have been produced according to the analytics firm, Airfinity. Africa accounts for two percent of the global total, having administered just over 31 million Covid-19 doses. Much of the richer countries in the world are nearing the goal of inoculating to achieve herd immunity, so it’s the poorer countries that are unable to meet the target. With vaccine shortages, low vaccination rates, and a potential third wave, the Covid situation in the continent is concerning.


Vaccine Hesitancy

From the onset of the pandemic, there’s been a surge of information – new, constant, and complex. Misinformation is rife and overwhelming. Several misinformation campaigns were launched to discredit the vaccines, even before production. In spite of assurances of the vaccine’s safety, doubts persist, which have impacted the vaccination exercise.

Lack of trust in government is also prompting vaccine hesitancy. Chijioke Osborne believes Nigerians don’t trust the government or media. “We don’t trust the system in place, not with all that’s going on, the issues of insecurity, tribalism, nepotism, and bad governance. It’s difficult to believe the vaccines they’ve taken are what they’ll give to us, the citizens.”

Various myths about the Covid vaccine have evolved and somehow become "truth". Some believe the vaccines were developed to kill Nigerians using fetal tissues, implants, and microchips. Others think the injections can affect fertility, or alter DNA leading to long-term side effects. But one major concern is that the vaccine was developed too fast, so it’s not safe. Dr. Faisal Shuaib, Director of NPHCDA, reasons that “We fear what we don’t understand.” Akpan Akpan, a bus driver,, doesn’t even believe the COVID-19 virus exists. “I must see with my eyes anyone infected by the virus, not just the ones they show on television.” Kayode, his conductor,, agrees with him. He believes the disease is only meant for rich people who travel abroad. 

Social influencers, political, and faith leaders are also purveyors of conspiracy theories and vaccine misinformation. David Oyedepo, an influential Nigerian pastor, declared to his followers that he wouldn’t take the Covid vaccine because he was not a guinea pig. “The world is confused but the church is lighted,” he said. There is a strong probability that after listening to his messages, a lot of his flock and admirers will not be vaccinated. This is also true of state governors, like Yahaya Bello, a Covid naysayer, who refuses to take the injection and is actively working against the vaccination of his people. It is likely that more people would take the jabs if encouraged by their leaders and influencers. 


Shortfall in Funding 

Nigeria’s Minister of Health informed the public that the supplementary budget for the procurement of Covid vaccines was being delayed. The government admitted it had not decided on the vaccine to purchase and that cost was also a factor affecting procurement. “There are different prices for the vaccines and we don’t know the exact one we’re getting,” he said. It seems there isn’t much urgency within the government to get more shots in arms as quickly as possible; perhaps everyone is living under some assumed sense of security.

Poor funding is also impacting the local production of Covid vaccines. The Ghanaian President feels “it is imperative that Africa develops its own vaccine production capacity to facilitate easy and affordable access to doses.” But the cost of clinical trials is a deterrent to achieving this. Nigeria needs $1.5 million for its clinical trials and this is a heavy cost for the country. The health minister said, “a Nigerian researcher has developed a Covid-19 vaccine candidate with a high likelihood of success, but the cost of the clinical trial has impeded any progress in that line.”

The Free-Vaccine Dependency Problem

Currently, the country has relied solely on donations from Covax – a body committed to the equitable global distribution of vaccines. Nigeria had to wait for donated vaccines and only began vaccinating in April 2021, while many countries had already been vaccinating for months. 

Experts link vaccine shortage in Nigeria to reliance on free vaccines from the international community. The Chairman of the Expert Review Committee on Covid-19, Prof Oyewale Tomori, condemned this dependence on donors, “Although the country had the resources, it was busy waiting for donations. I attribute this to lack of principles and unpreparedness.” The government even intends to source vaccines from countries that have discontinued the use of AstraZeneca vaccines. Also, there are ongoing bilateral discussions to access stockpiled vaccines from developed countries that have reached significant vaccine coverage. The country needs to buy vaccines. The delays may activate other pandemic-related crisis and prevent the economy from rebounding quickly.

Present Covid Climate

Nigerians have moved on from Covid. The laxity and indifference to safety protocols affirm that they believe the pandemic is over. The word on the street is “Covid does not kill an African man. Show me one person you know with Covid.”

According to the NCDC, the total number of deaths from Covid-19 is just above 2,117. The African Centre for Disease Control believes this low mortality rate is a paradox considering that in Lagos, about 20% have been exposed to the virus. It seems we are normalizing deaths, since over 2,117 reported deaths is still low for a population over 200 million. Infection and death rates as reported by the NCDC are dropping every day. This false sense that Nigerians are immune to Covid has led private and public bodies to abandon pandemic protocols.


Ripple Effect

It is enlightening to look at the impact of the Covid situation on the economy, travel, safety, and human health. Nigerian-Dublin-based business-man, Jide Sotimehin, recently visited Nigeria and is not bothered by the loosening of safety protocols. But he takes the mandated tests and observes personal precautions. He does believe there’s Covid in the country but thinks the hot weather has curtailed the spread of the virus. He continues to do business in the country and actually believes it’s imperative for commerce to thrive. “People in the country are well and healthy and that’s a motivation to visit," he said.


Barrister Emma Okoro resides in Philadelphia and was in Nigeria recently to visit with close family. He received his vaccine shortly before his visit and admits he took the shot so he could travel. “Out of necessity,” he said. “I believe in science and had to take it to be safe. But if I had to make a voluntary choice, I wouldn’t take it. No one can tell the long-term effects of the drug. We have to wait and see.”

It’s not a hundred percent protection; vaccinated people can still be infected, although survival rates are higher. “It does give me rest of mind,” said Dr. Juliet Njoku. She would rather have waited it out but was convinced by her daughter to take the shot. “I mean what’s the alternative? It’s continued exposure to who knows what.”  

International business activities have long resumed and peaked. Government officials and private entrepreneurs are usually masked up when interacting with foreign nationals. It is the locals that aren’t bothered by Covid.

“Covid is gone, if it was even here in the first place.” This is a belief reflected by the large numbers of maskless and non-Covid compliant people. International travelers are often amused, after being compelled to wear masks in planes and airports, to find that Nigerians on the streets are either maskless or wearing masks on their chins.

“Wearing the mask makes you look different and people start questioning, 'Is this man sick? Did he come back with the Covid?' said Barrister Okoro. He also believes the hot weather is helping the people. “It’s so hot in the country, even in the rainy season. I think it has made it difficult for the virus to thrive. The heat must be killing the virus.” He does advise anyone traveling to the country to be vaccinated.

Foreign travelers may still be concerned that death rates are underreported, giving an incorrect assessment of the Covid situation.

Dr. Juliet Njoku tells of many acquaintances that visited home and never made it back to the States. “I know of five people who went home for the festivities, were in crowded places, got sick, and died.” But she isn’t scared to come to Nigeria because of Covid, “I know enough to observe the protocols when I visit. I’ll wear the mask even though I’m vaccinated. I don’t mind sticking out like a sore thumb.”


The Delta Variant And Other Variants

The Delta variant is concerning. It devastated the healthcare infrastructure of India, overwhelming hospitals, morgues, and crematoriums, leaving families to source oxygen and medicine for their sick. This variant is already in 22 African countries. Lagos (Nigeria’s densely populated state) has begun to record “a steep increase in the number of daily confirmed Covid cases,” according to the governor. One university in the state just shut down its hostels after a suspected outbreak of Covid. To mitigate a surge in infections, the country began Phase 4 restrictions on movement and gatherings. These directives are usually flouted. Travellers who have visited high incidence areas – Brazil, India, Turkey, and South Africa – within 14 days before visiting Nigeria are denied entry. While citizens and those with permanent residence permits undergo 7 days of quarantine and take a Covid-19 PCR test within 24 hours of arrival. Again, this is somewhat ineffectual. Recently 9,057 travellers disappeared to avoid mandatory isolation in Lagos. The state has vaccinated only one percent of its population.


Clearly, the vaccine is the fastest, safest way to combat the Covid-19 virus. Even with the supposed ‘African lucky charm’ the W.H.O warns that a sudden, sharp rise in Covid cases in many parts of Africa could amount to a continental third wave. The already ailing healthcare infrastructure will collapse completely. A vaccination blitz is required to make up for the lost time. Covid vaccinations remain the sure way to control the pandemic, avoid a full-blown crisis, and deliver a thriving economy. The government must invest in vaccine purchases without relying on donations, more importantly, convince the people to take them. The challenge truly lies in getting shots into arms.


This article is made possible by funding from Resolve Philly

 Belinda is a contributor for FunTimes Magazine. She runs creative writing clubs in high schools and lives with her husband and three children in Lagos, Nigeria. Her other passion is child literacy and she manages a charity working to improve reading levels of kids in low income communities. She is becoming adept at stealing time here and there to finish her novel. Belinda holds varied degrees in Theatre and Film, Public and Media Relations, International Affairs and Pre-Primary Education.

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