Over 10m Covid vaccines lie idle

A Ugandan army health official injects a man with the Pfizer vaccine during mass vaccination at City Square in Kampala on October 14, 2021. PHOTO | ISAAC KASAMANI

What you need to know:

  • Dr Simon Kibira, a lecturer in the Department of Community Health and behavioural Sciences at the Makerere University school of Public Health, said making vaccination compulsory is not a sustainable public health strategy.

The Ministry of Health has said the Covid-19 vaccination rate has remained below their expectation even after acquiring sufficient doses of the life-saving jabs.

The ministry is racing to inoculate at least 22 million people for effective control of the pandemic to guarantee the recovery of the economy which has been battered by the Covid-19 induced restrictions.

Dr Daniel Kyabayinze, the director of public health services at the Ministry of Health, said 10 million doses of vaccines are still at National Medical Stores (NMS) even though less than 30 percent of Ugandans are fully-vaccinated. The vaccines will expire by May, according to NMS. 

Dr Kyabayinze revealed that of the 36 million doses of vaccines the government has cumulatively acquired through donations and direct procurement, 25.3 million doses have been distributed to districts and not all have been utilised.

He said they have, however, developed many approaches such as the accelerated Covid-19 vaccination campaign in regions across the country to increase access to the vaccines for fast utilisation.

“Uganda has enough vaccines to inoculate all the interested people. For those who are not interested, time will make them interested. I call upon people to get interested when we still have goodwill to look for them where they are,” Dr Kyabayinze, who is the national Covid-19 vaccination coordinator, said. 

He added that government is expecting to acquire additional seven million doses of vaccines. 

The vaccination coordinator said so far 6.4 million are fully vaccinated, while 12.7 million Ugandans are partially vaccinated –meaning their immunity against Covid-19 is less effective. Eleven thousand people have also received their second dose.

Statistics from the Health ministry indicate that there was a 23 percent decline in Covid-19 vaccination rate in the last 40 days. 

From January 1 to February 9, a total of 3,995,400 doses of vaccines were administered which is less than  the 5,198,436 doses administered in the previous 40 days which stretched from November 22 to December 31. 

But from January 28 when the Ministry resumed accelerated [mass] vaccination campaign in regions, until February 9, they reported the administering of 2,772,726 vaccines. This means up to 69 percent of all the doses administered in the 40 days (January 1 to February 9) happened in the last 13 days.  

Dr Immaculate Ampaire, the deputy manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunisation (UNEPI), said there was a slight interruption of Covid-19 vaccination in January to allow for immunisation against polio. 

“In January, the ministry opened up for polio immunisation and it is [was] completed. But Covid-19 vaccination was not interrupted at health facilities,” she said. This position was also reinforced by Dr Kyabayinze who said there was “no significant” Covid-19 vaccination in January of polio intervention.

Dr Charles Olaro, the director of clinical services at the ministry, when asked to comment about the rate of Covid-19 vaccination in the country, said: “We are moving on but not at the rate we expected.”

“By now we should have really gone over these numbers but the numbers are coming in slowly. The Covid-19 cases have gone down and we don’t know what may happen, maybe we can have another wave. Let people get vaccinated,” he said.

Regarding the likely effect of the declining rates of Covid-19 infections on vaccine uptake, Dr Olaro, said: “They [people] shouldn’t only hurry to get vaccinated when they see many people are dying or numbers are up. We should just get ourselves protected.” 

“We are working with other civil society organisations, rotary family day…we have campaigns on radio calling upon people to go for Covid-19 vaccination,” he added. 

The Ministry says the vaccines are effective in preventing severe Covid-19 disease and death.  Since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country in 2020, a total of 3,574 people have succumbed to the virus of the 162,755 people who have been infected. 

Will compulsory vaccination increase uptake?

The dissatisfaction of the Ministry on Covid-19 vaccination rate is coming at a time when the government has proposed tough new laws that make it compulsory for Ugandans to get vaccinated or be fined Shs4 million or be jailed for six months for refusal to comply.

The proposal, which is contained in the Public Health (Amendment) Bill, 2021, tabled before Parliament a few weeks ago, is subject to changes as it faces scrutiny by Parliament.

But Dr Simon Kibira, a lecturer in the Department of Community Health and behavioural Sciences at the Makerere University school of Public Health, said making vaccination compulsory is not a sustainable public health strategy.

“In health behaviours, threats are the last resort because they rarely work. They can only work for a short time. First of all, enforcement is very hard. There are only a few places where you can enforce such as offices, but it is hard to enforce among people who are in the informal sector,” he said. 

“I don’t think threats are going to work. I think we should work on behavioural change by continuing with sensitisation. You see even during the lockdown, they asked boda bodas to stop working but did they stop? Also you have people who are forging vaccination certificates and we don’t have adequate technologies to verify the documents,” he added.

Dr Kibira’s views are almost the same as of Dr Mukuzi Muhereza, a clinician in western Uganda, who was the former general secretary of the Uganda Medical Association. Dr Mukuzi said although there are many talks by the Ministry of Health about increased access, some communities are still having challenges accessing vaccination centres, due to bad roads and long distance.

“In a population, you will get people who understand and those who don’t understand. We can only fight this with information and truthfulness and telling people that there are things we don’t yet know about the vaccines,” he said, adding: “We know that the vaccines work.”

Top 10 in Africa

Percentage of population covered by Covid vaccination in Africa on February 15 per Africa CDC.  

1.Seychelles – 155.66%

2.Mauritius -144,03%

3.Comoros -114.8

4.Sao Tome – 102.91%

5. Lesotho -86.3%

6.Botswana -85.31%

7.Morocco -82.46%

8.Rwanda –79.39%

9.Cape Verde – 74.52%

10.Mauritania – 71.48%

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