new denominator

Africa's official covid vaccination rates are about to go up by a lot

Africa CDC will start reporting vaccination rates of people aged 12 or more instead of the total population
Africa's official covid vaccination rates are about to go up by a lot
Photo: KB Mpofu (Getty Images)
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As of the end of 2022, about a quarter of the population of African countries has been fully vaccinated against covid-19, according to the latest figures shared by Africa CDC.

The coverage varies drastically depending on the country. In Liberia, for instance, nearly 80% of the population is fully vaccinated, while only 34% is in neighboring Sierra Leone. Congo, Sudan, Senegal, and Madagascar all have vaccination rates below 10%.

These numbers are about to change—and not because of an increase in vaccinations. Africa CDC acting director Ahmed Ogwell Ouma announced in a video briefing on Dec. 22 that it will modify the way it reports vaccination rates. Rather than reporting coverage of the overall population, it will only report vaccinations of eligible population aged 12 or more.

A change in denominator, not in coverage

Due of delays in international vaccine deliveries, Africa lags behind the rest of the world in covid vaccination rates, and is the only continent where less than 50% of the population is fully vaccinated. Currently, just more than 800 million doses of vaccines have been administered in Africa, or 80% of the total received. About a third of the vaccinations have been made with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, followed by Pfizer (22%), AstraZeneca (17%), China’s Sinopharm (15%) and Sinovac (7%).

In most countries, the focus of vaccination campaigns has been on older and vulnerable populations, and typically children and adolescents aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine.

Africa CDC is changing the way it reports vaccination rates to focus only on the population it considers eligible, or people aged 12 or above. About 40% of the African population is below 15, so the change in denominator will lead to a large jump in the coverage figures. When Africa CDC makes the change, the percent of the eligible population currently vaccinated will jump from 26% to 42%.

In his briefing, Ouma said the target for Africa remains to vaccinate 70% of the population. That goal, however, was set by the World Health Organization for the overall population.

Zambia, for instance, recently announced surpassing its 70% vaccination target, although it only offered the vaccine to 8.4 million adults above 18—a minority of the population of nearly 19 million.

Once Africa CDC switches to the new denominator, it will be the only region to do so, which will make it much harder to compare the continent’s immunity with the rest of the world.