As shortage of vaccine doses, new variants threaten pandemic response
The report of a new survey conducted by the Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19, PERC, has called on governments of countries of the African Union, AU, to commit to targeted public health measures for high-risk populations, increased surveillance in light of new variants, and scaled-up vaccine supply from the global community to control the pandemic in the continent.
In its recommendations to governments of the AU and the global community, the report called for investment towards increasing the capacity to detect, test, sequence, and trace cases and new COVID-19 variants.
Further, governments were charged to prioritise targeted, individual Public Health and Social Measures, PHSMs, to high-risk areas to maximise adherence for the long run and minimise secondary burdens; utilise an evidence-based approach to identify and offer relief to high-risk populations; and protect health care workers with use of adequate PPE, fair compensation, paid sick leave, and mental health care, among others.
With the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and challenges in the supply and rollout of vaccines in Africa, the new PERC research indicates that burdens experienced by people in AU Member States remain grave.
Among the key findings in the report, 53 percent of respondents supported measures restricting social gathering, such as limits on visiting places of worship, public gatherings, and entertainment venues, compared to 65 percent in August 2020, while 54 percent supported measures restricting movement, down from 64 percent in August.
Given the delayed rollout of vaccines and the threat posed by new variants, all AU Member States are urged to scale up effective testing strategies to detect early indications of potential surges and sustain the strategic use of public health measures to prevent subsequent waves while ensuring social protection.
The report concluded that clear, transparent communications from leaders and public health officials are vital in building trust and influencing people to follow any further measures, noting that respondents who expressed high satisfaction with the authorities were more likely to report adherence to public health measures than those who expressed dissatisfaction.
From the report, limitations in testing capacity and surveillance–as well as uneven demand for testing–are masking the true severity of COVID-19 in Africa, fueling the dangerous myth that much of Africa is unscathed.
The report noted that test positivity rates were above 10 percent across many countries during the second wave–substantially higher than the 5 percent maximum warning level suggested by the WHO and suggesting that many cases have gone undetected.
In the view of Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention: “As case counts surge across the world, new variants emerge and vaccine rollout remains slow, it will be crucial for AU Member States to use evidence-based strategies to manage COVID-19.
Dr. Richard Mihigo, Programme Coordinator, Immunisation and Vaccine Development, WHO Regional Office for Africa, stated: “Going forward, we must prioritise sustained and targeted campaigns which address the growing infodemic around vaccines while providing evidence-based information to dispel myths and build confidence in vaccines.”
“Countries are most effective in controlling the pandemic when they consider what measures people will actually follow at this stage in the pandemic and take steps to inform, partner with, and support communities,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, President/CEO of Resolve to Save Lives. “Analysis of PERC data can help governments predict adherence to preventive measures, craft effective communications, and mount a stronger response to COVID-19.”