Apr 22, 2022 - World

DRC hopes to "turn the tide" on low COVID vaccination rate

Carrying doses in Goma, DRC. Photo: Guerchom Ndebo/Getty Images

Health workers carry a box of COVID vaccine doses in Goma, DRC. Photo: Guerchom Ndebo/Getty Images

No big country has struggled to roll out vaccines more than Democratic Republic of Congo, where less than 1% of the population is fully vaccinated.

State of play: Vaccines still aren’t available in some remote provinces of the central African giant, but vaccination rates are very low even in the capital, Kinshasa, home to 17 million people.

  • Seth Berkley, CEO of the Gavi vaccine alliance and point person for the global COVAX initiative, recently told Axios that supply was no longer an issue. COVAX is prepared to send more doses to DRC, he said, if and when the existing supply is rolled out.

On the ground: “When we started in November, there was not much interest” in getting vaccinated, says Freddy Nkosi, DRC director for VillageReach, an NGO that works on health care delivery in low-income countries.

  • VillageReach operates four vaccination centers in Kinshasa, which Nkosi says are conveniently located near bus stops or markets, and they're open seven days a week with no appointment necessary. They are offering five different vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, AstraZeneca and Sinovac.
  • Nkosi says demand has been increasing over the past two to three months as people grow "more and more confident."
  • He adds “rumors” — that vaccines had killed people or contained ingredients that would violate religious practices — have been the biggest obstacle. Nkosi thinks some of that misinformation was imported from the West via social media, while some are specific to the DRC.

Between the lines: Asked why the vaccination rate in DRC is so much lower than other low-income countries with similar challenges, Nkosi was uncertain, though he noted that a strike among health care workers didn’t help.

  • Somewhat surprisingly, the uptick in vaccination is coming as fear of COVID fades and life largely returns to normal, Nkosi says.
  • Many people decided to come in after someone they knew was vaccinated. Others need vaccines for work or travel.

The bottom line: "We are hoping to turn the tide," Nkosi says. "We started at a snail’s pace, but I do have hope we can still catch up."

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