Catholics in Africa are fighting a double battle: COVID-19 vaccine shortage, skepticism


Vaccine protesters hold placards during a march against COVID-19 vaccinations on September 18 in Cape Town, South Africa. (CNS / Reuters / Mike Hutchings)

Abuja, Nigeria – As access to coronavirus vaccines continues to be limited across Africa, Catholic officials across the continent are struggling to maintain prevention measures. At the same time, they are also trying to fight against misinformation about vaccinations and to convince those who have the possibility of getting vaccinated.

Local parishes are leading these outreach efforts. Bro. Bennet Umeh, associate priest at St. Kevin’s Catholic Church in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, said constant reminders from the pulpit was a good strategy to convince parishioners to get the vaccine.

“I have been part of our weekly announcements to remind people that COVID-19 is real and that they should observe proper hygiene practices like washing their hands with soap and water, wearing masks and take social distances, ”Umeh said.

Umeh told NCR that his parish works in conjunction with Nigeria’s health care agency, which is in charge of the country’s immunization awareness program.

“We asked them to come while we were announcing and [they] encouraged people to go and get vaccinated, ”he said.

Bro. Augustine Kobor (Courtesy of Augustine Kobor)

Bro. Augustine Kobor (Courtesy of Augustine Kobor)

Bro. Augustine Kobor, deputy administrator of St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in Ado-Ekiti, a town in southwestern Nigeria, said he also makes similar announcements at the end of each mass. He said he was also sending WhatsApp messages to parishioners to remind them to get vaccinated when possible.

“The virus is still very present in us, so people should do well to get vaccinated, not only by taking the first vaccine, but also by taking the second vaccine to be sure their health is safe,” Kobor said. .

Like priests in other parts of the continent, Umeh and Kobor are in the odd position of battling vaccine reluctance at a time when vaccines are not yet widely available to many Africans.

Lack of local vaccine production has forced African countries to depend on COVAX, an initiative sponsored by the World Health Organization to provide equitable access to coronavirus vaccines across the world. But vaccine supply shortages continued to pose a growing threat.

In late September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said about 90% of Africa’s population had yet to receive a single shot of the vaccine. For example, as of October 19, just over 7.4 million doses of the vaccine had been administered to the Nigerian population of some 200 million people. In Kenya, only 4.5 million of its estimated 53 million people received a jab.

The UN estimates that Africa needs around 470 million doses of vaccine to achieve the dual goal of fully immunizing 40% of its population by the end of the year and 70% by mid-year. 2022, according to the vaccination targets set by the World Health Organization. .

Christian Happi, director of the Nigeria-based African Center of Excellence for Infectious Disease Genomics, told NCR that Africa “could end up having a pandemic much longer than we imagined.”

Happi said that due to the lack of doses, it is even more important that people who have access to vaccines are vaccinated. “If everyone gets vaccinated quickly, it will ensure that the pandemic does not continue unnecessarily,” he said.

Women in Abuja, Nigeria wear face masks on May 2, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic.  (CNS / Reuters / Afolabi Sotunde)

Women in Abuja, Nigeria wear face masks on May 2, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS / Reuters / Afolabi Sotunde)

Olayide Osibogun, a public health doctor at the University of Lagos, agreed with this opinion. “The goal of having a vaccine is to provide immunity to as many people as possible and to break the chain of transmission,” he said. “And when people refuse to be vaccinated, they make it impossible to obtain herd immunity.”

But reluctance to vaccinate continues to grow on the continent. Some Catholic communities are indifferent to taking vaccines. Mabola Thusi, a parishioner at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, South Africa, for example, spoke to NCR about her reluctance to take a vaccine that was developed within a few years.

In August, dozens of protesters in South Africa demonstrated outside a major hospital against the use of vaccines. “People have the right to allow anything that comes into their body,” Thusi said. “You cannot force me to take the vaccine against my will.”

Umeh, the Abuja priest, said that while there are conspiracy theories on the vaccine, the main reason some of his parishioners are reluctant is lack of confidence in government and world politics.

“There is a serious trust deficit in the country because politicians and government officials have always shown that they don’t care about people, and therefore people don’t trust their information about COVID-19.” , did he declare.

Nigeria, like other countries in Africa, is trying to encourage acceptance of vaccines. In September, the government concluded plans to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for federal employees. Two Nigerian states of Edo and Ondo have also taken similar steps, when they pledged to ban people who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 from entering public places.

Umeh suggested that more vaccine acceptance campaigns and awareness programs need to be developed and promoted to reach all Catholic communities, especially hard-to-reach areas of the country.

“As a church, we don’t in any way force people to do things they don’t want to,” he said. “We explain it to them and allow them to make their own choices and while some people adhere to the rules and even get vaccinated, some still think they are immune to it.”

[Patrick Egwu is a freelance journalist based in Nigeria who reports on global health, education, religion, conflict and other development issues. Saint Ekpali is also a freelance journalist based in Nigeria and a mentee with the Solutions Journalism Network.]

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