Herd immunity cannot be achieved unless the public accepts vaccines. As Africa begins rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine, it is important to communicate the importance of the vaccine and have a clear strategy, experts said.

“Health authorities must share vaccine rollout information with members of the public in simple, layman’s language to increase trust and acceptance,” said South Africa health department deputy-director general Dr. Anban Pillay.

Speaking during a webinar held by the BroadReach Group on 8 March, Pillay echoed the sentiments of his international colleagues.

Describing the rollout as a “multi-year marathon,” FHI 360 chief scientist Dr Tim Mastro, said vaccine hesitancy must be addressed before herd immunity can be achieved. FHI 360 is an international non-profit focusing on human development.

“The major challenges for 2021 include the inequitable Covid-19 vaccine distribution between rich and poor countries, different viral variants and vaccine hesitancy,” said Mastro.

“If we do things right with research and investment for Covid-19 vaccines, we could have greatly improved vaccines down the road,” Mastro added. “One vision would be that we have universal vaccines for all coronaviruses and flus —that is something vaccine science can deliver.”

On the ground planning

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Africa region says to defeat the pandemic at scale, health authorities needed to invest in detailed grassroots planning. A so-called control tower approach, which uses digital resources and data management to manage what is the world’s largest vaccination effort, must support this micro-level planning.

“African countries had to explore emergency use authorisation avenues, adopt detailed national vaccine deployment plans, which included details such as their target populations, vaccination schedules, chains of command, provisions for special import permits and indemnity agreements with manufacturers so that they could do crucial micro planning,” said Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe, an award-winning health specialist and new vaccine medical officer with WHO Africa.

Achieving herd immunity quickly is a massive logistical feat that will require pragmatic micro-planning, said Dr. Ernest Darkoh, co-founder of BroadReach health care group. It would require proper cold chain and storage management, and ensuring that vaccines were handled correctly and prepared timeously. It would also require scheduling of both staff and patients.

This planning, the experts said, could be an opportunity to use the Covid-19 crisis to improve all major healthcare systems for the future.—Health-e News