Vaccine hesitancy may spur new variants: Researchers

Covid vaccine hesitancy in poor nations may spur new variants, say researchers

Until late October, many African nations "didn't have enough doses"

Representative Image. Credit: AFP File Photo

After lack of access to adequate doses, many poor countries are now facing vaccine resistance, which according to scientists could be a source of new variants, such as Omicron, Nature reported.

"When you have a lot of community transmission, that's where variants will emerge," Jeffrey Lazarus, a global health researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, Spain, was quoted as saying.

Addressing people's hesitancy is therefore crucial, to curb viral spread and to avert hospitalisations and deaths, he said.

According to scientists, hesitancy might now be contributing to the slow uptake of vaccines in South Africa, one of the nations where Omicron was first detected, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Papua New Guinea and Nepal. These countries have large proportions of unvaccinated populations.

Also read: Omicron will spike Covid cases 'much higher': Fauci

"We have more hesitant people in the global south than we ever thought we did," Rupali Limaye, a behavioural scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, was quoted as saying. Although in many countries, limited supply is still the main problem, the researchers said.

Until late October, many African nations "didn't have enough doses", but even after getting adequate amounts of vaccines in most countries just 64 per cent of the vaccines have so far been administered, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

In South Africa, for example, the number of doses administered each week has fallen to less than one-quarter of doses given at the peak of the vaccination drive in September. This is despite only 44 per cent of adults having been vaccinated with at least one dose.

Also read: There is still hope pandemic could begin fading in 2022

According to Espoir Malembaka, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who is based in Bukavu, DRC, except for travellers getting ready to board flights, people are not "really in a rush to get the vaccine". He believes that the problem is not access to, but mistrust of, the vaccines.

Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy has long been recognised as a problem in high- and middle-income nations.

A major concern is safety, especially because the vaccines were developed and delivered rapidly and the recommendations for their use have often changed, researchers said. Misinformation coupled with lack of trust in governments have also played a role in hesitancy.

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