In February 2023, at a meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa, African Heads of State agreed on the need to “revamp routine immunisation” across the continent. This comes after the disruptions caused largely by the COVID-19 pandemic, which have been observed globally but have had a particularly concerning effect in Africa.  

The state of vaccination 

WHO Africa states that compared to 18 million children across the world who were excluded from immunisation services in 2021, African had 8.4 million. “Poor or marginalised communities” and people “rendered vulnerable by conflicts” and “fragile settings” are more likely to find accessing vaccinations hard.  

Across Africa, immunisation coverage for many of the vaccine-preventable diseases is “well below the 90-95% range” required to keep it free of these diseases. For example, in 2021 vaccination coverage for measles was 69%. Coverage for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis was 82.5%, and the third dose of polio was 81.5%.  

The statement from WHO Africa suggests that vaccine-preventable diseases are responsible for “93% of ongoing infectious disease outbreaks”, with outbreaks ongoing in 31 countries.  

“Without renewed political will and immediate, intensified efforts, it is estimated that immunisation coverage will not return to 2019 levels until 2027.”  

Building momentum 

At the event in Addis Ababa, leaders endorsed a declaration called “building momentum for routine immunisation recovery in Africa”. This is intended to “revitalise the momentum for all populations to have universal access to immunisation to reduce mortality, morbidity, and disability”. Furthermore, it will enable Member States to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.  

Dr Julius Maada Bio, President of Sierra Leone, believes it is “possible to achieve the national and global immunisation targets including eradication and elimination goals”.  

“Progress in meeting immunisation targets, we believe, is a driver for equitable health outcomes”.  

Dr Bio also expects the “returns on investment for immunisation” to be “very high”. This was supported by Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, who said that “immunisation saves lives and is one of the best health investments that money can buy”.  

Ambassador Minata Samate Cessouma, AU Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs, and Social Development, hopes to “save many more lives” and end vaccine-preventable diseases”.  

“This is core to achieving healthy, prosperous communities as premised in the AU Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.” 

Children are the key 

Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa commented that “children who were missed by immunisation services are more likely to also experience limited or no access to health, nutrition, education, and other social services”.  

“With strong political will and increased investment in essential services for children, including immunisation, we can accelerate progress towards the Immunisation Agenda 2030, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the global Sustainable Development Goals 2030 to ensure a healthier, safer, and more prosperous Africa for its children and for all”.  

For more on global immunisation goals and Africa-specific immunisation targets, join us at the World Vaccine Congress in Washington this April.