Health minister Kalumbi Shangula has expressed serious concern over Namibia’s overall vaccination uptake, which he said has declined over the past few weeks, despite initiatives to increase it.
During the months of July to September 2021, the daily vaccination uptake stood at between 3 500 and 4 000, and over 20 000 per week from all regions, far from reaching the projected daily target of 10 000 vaccinations.
The health ministry targets at least 1.5 million (60%) of the total population to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said factors contributing to the low uptake in Namibia included the spread of misinformation, concerns over the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, and vaccine hesitancy.
International studies in 28 nationally representative samples found that as the pandemic progresses, the percentage intending to vaccinate decreased and the percentage intending to refuse increased. Pooled data between June and October 2020 suggest that only 60% intend to vaccinate, while about 20% intend to refuse. Shangula said the figure has declined to less than 1 900 per day and just above 10 000 vaccines administered per week. “This trend must be changed for Namibia to reach the vaccination target by the end of the current financial year. In order to achieve herd immunity, we need to do more, lest we stand the risk of finding ourselves caught up in future Covid-19 waves.”
By 12 November, Namibia had fully vaccinated only 217 129 people since the campaign started in March 2021.
The minister said at the 36th Covid-19 briefing at State House on Friday that Namibia is closely following new outbreaks of Covid-19 in other parts of the globe such as Europe, the US and China.
He said lessons learned from these countries are that “we cannot let our guard down.
“While vaccines do protect against severe illness and death, the disease can still spread and affect many people”.
Therefore, Shangula said compliance with public health measures and getting more people vaccinated are critical.
“For a country like Namibia, where the uptake and coverage are low, this must be a worrying development,” he added.
During the deadly third wave, the health system became overwhelmed with, at times, over 100% bed occupancy. Oxygen supplies were exhausted and health workers overstretched, resulting in increased infections of healthcare workers. The trajectory of the pandemic in Namibia in the coming months and years will thus largely depend on the conduct of the public in terms of whether they comply with the measures, and whether more people turn up to get vaccinated.
“Please ensure that you and your loved ones are fully vaccinated. Vaccination will redeem us from Covid-19, as it did in respect of poliomyelitis more than a decade ago,” the health minister noted.
Furthermore, Shangula announced that the country will soon start administering Covid-19 vaccines to adolescents aged between 12 and 17.
Current evidence suggests that children with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from SARS-CoV-2 infections.
“Prioritising those at risk of severe disease, hospitalisation and deaths is critical in our national response,” Shangula said, adding that among the vaccines available in Namibia, the Pfizer vaccine is recommended for this age group. “Legal informed consent for the vaccination of children shall be obtained from parents or guardians who opt to have their children vaccinated,” he noted. The expansion of vaccination to this age group will be done in a phased approach, starting with adolescents 12-17 years old who are at increased risk of severe illness, hospitalisation and death.
However, all adolescents in this age group are encouraged to go for vaccination. Meanwhile, the leaders have further relaxed Covid-19 regulations as the country continues to record low daily positive cases. Alcohol sales are restricted to licence conditions, while public gatherings have been adjusted from 200 to 500 per event. However, Shangula warned against complacency, saying social distancing is still encouraged and the “wearing of masks remains mandatory”.