First in the world to receive the COVID-19 VAX, Ghana struggles to reach ‘herd immunity’ goals

The season of Christmas comes with lots of compliments, well-wishes, and cautionary messages among families, friends, and citizens at-large to ensure an incident-free period.  

For Ghanaians this year, the traditional holiday season messages included one from the government urging more people to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.

Ahead of the festivities, the week of December 14-18, 2022 was designated as “National COVID-19 Vaccination Days” (NaCVaDs), part of the government’s on-going efforts to reach the estimated 1.6 million eligible Ghanaians yet to receive any COVID-19 vaccine jab.

The campaign, based on the theme: “Protect yourself. Protect your family. Get Vaccinated against COVID-19” targeted the estimated 1.4 million unvaccinated persons across the country. This was the government’s fifth national COVID-19 mass vaccination campaign. The first one was launched in 2021.

While health officials note that each campaign has yielded positive results in terms of increasing the number of people getting vaccinated, the country still falls short of its goal of reaching what medical scientists call “herd immunity” – having around 60% to 70% of the population fully immunized.

In Ghana, although there has been a marked increase in the numbers of people getting at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccines, the country has been very slow in reaching its herd immunity target.

According to the Ghana Health Service (GHS), as of early December, around 21.4 million vaccine doses had been administered to the population. However, fewer than 30% (9.2 million) of the eligible population were fully immunized, a number far short of the herd immunity goal.

This shortfall is not due to lack of trying on the part of health officials. Ghana’s government embarked on its COVID-19 vaccination promotion effort with high hopes and much confidence.

In February 2021, Ghana became the first country in the world to receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines under the international initiative known as COVAX.  Launched in June 2020, COVAX aims to ensure global access equity to COVID-19 vaccines. COVAX is the abbreviation for ‘COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access.’ 

In March 2021, Ghana launched a massive COVID-19 National Vaccine Deployment Plan (NVDP) tied to an initial vaccination target to immunize at least 20 million people and achieve 60% herd immunity by June 2021.

However, a year later, only half that number had been reached. By July 2021, the vaccination effort hit a roadblock due to global vaccine geopolitics that resulted in a scarcity of available COVID-19 vaccines.

Temporarily stalled in its rollout, the government revised the date for reaching its herd immunity goal to June 2022 with the aim of reaching  even more of the population –22.9 million people, including pregnant women and children age 15 years and older.

Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) has so far approved five COVID-19 vaccines for use: Oxford AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Once the vaccine shortage crisis was soon resolved, Ghana’s health services faced an equally difficult hurdle, one that has negatively impacted its massive immunization project, and that is that many people simply have refused to take the jab.

The health system has been challenged with vaccine hesitancy along with high public apathy in taking the vaccines coupled with rumors, myths, misinformation, and misconceptions surrounding the vaccines. In addition, messaging and actions taken by the government early on in its pro- immunization push actually ended up making many people angry.

In December 2021, the government announced several mandatory actions aimed at stemming the infection spread and pushing people to get vaccinated such as requiring the wearing of masks, limiting in-country public gatherings, and requiring travelers entering the country to show proof they were fully vaccinated. In January 2022 it was announced that vaccinations would be made mandatory for certain groups of people and that access to certain public areas for those who were not vaccinated would be denied. These pronouncements triggered a lot of backlash from the public with many people asserting that these actions infringed on people’s basic human rights and citizen’s rights.

In response, the government in March 2022, eased up on some restrictions such as required face masking and social distancing in places where the public gather as long as people were fully vaccinated. Hand washing and hand sanitizing points were to be made available at all vantage places at all times.

This December 2022 NaCVaDs campaign was timely, aimed at raising awareness about the disease, the fact that the virus was still something to take seriously and take precautions against, and to push more people to get vaccinated as they were heading into the busy  Christmas festivities and end of the year period when people are congregating more in groups.

“There is a potential for a new variant just like we had during the last Christmas- the Omicron variant. So, we also have to look at that as a risk factor and be alert to make sure that we sustain the gains made so far so we don’t go back to where we were many months ago,” said Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, Director General of the GHS, in declaring the December campaign.

Dr. Kuma-Aboagye noted that although more than 12 million people in Ghana had received at least a single dose of COVID -19 vaccine , with more than 9 million fully immunized, “The end is far from sight since the disease is unpredictable and a larger proportion of the vaccine eligible population remain unvaccinated,” he said.

Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, Programme Manager of the GHS Expanded Programme on Immunisation said vaccination would be the mainstay for COVID-19 prevention in Ghana and that the periodic campaigns have been adopted as an additional key strategy to get lots of people vaccinated.

Although Ghana has definitely seen its COVID-19 infection rate numbers decreasing, the continued threat of new outbreaks due to the morphing of the SARs-COV-2 virus into new strains and variants, still stares the country in the face as recent numbers are showing.

Barely two weeks into the New Year COVID-19 case numbers are beginning to rise just as the government begins tightening up measures to reduce importation and contain in-country surge.

As of January 1, 2023, Ghana had 18 active COVID-19 cases, up from just four as of December 16, 2022.  The majority of these cases were registered in the capital, Accra, which has been the epicenter of the virus.

New travel restrictions have since been placed on countries such as China, which has been experiencing an increased wave of new COVID-19 infections. Ghana health authorities are monitoring the current situation closely to inform any additional country-specific measures and to address possible threats.

Cumulatively, 171,065 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Ghana. Of that number, 169,586 persons recovered from the infection and 1,461 have succumbed to it.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 vaccines provide at least 50% percent efficacy against severe disease and hospitalization from the virus. It also warns that unvaccinated persons and those who have never been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus just might be the next ‘pandemic.’

One thing is sure; Ghana would have to boost its low COVID-19 vaccination coverage to ensure a fully immunized population and build the needed herd immunity to keep COVID-19 at bay.

This is crucial to not only control resurgence but also to reduce pressure on the country’s overstretched health system which is equally grappling with other life-threatening public health emergencies.


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