Is culture a deciding factor when it comes to Covid-19 vaccine acceptance in Africa?


March 26, 2021, 16:30 PM--

  • More than half of respondents in 5 African countries are unsure about taking the vaccine once it becomes available.
  • Key concerns which are driving people’s vaccine decisions are the safety of the vaccine and misinformation from sources that are not backed by science. But could cultural habits be the deciding factor?
  • While the continent waits for vaccines, massive vaccine messaging campaigns are needed to reach a large population of people so as to increase vaccine acceptance.

The impact of the 2019 Coronavirus on the African continent has been devastating, not only to the people and their livelihoods but also to the economies. One year later, as of 21st March 2021 according to Africa CDC, Africa has had 4.1 million cases out of which 3.7 million have recovered while 109,922 have died. However, not all countries have been reporting their figures therefore the number of infected and who have died is speculated to be bigger than what is reported.

African’s have always been skeptical about vaccines, mainly due to their safety and origins with most viewing them as the developed nation’s way of subduing Africans. According to the Kasi Insight Covid-19 tracker conducted last year from the month of August to December, more than half of respondents from Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Cameroon, Tanzania, and Nigeria were unsure of taking the vaccine when it became available. However, when each country was compared to another there were significant regional differences.


From the above graph, we can see that a total of 56.98% of people in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania surveyed are unsure (green bar) if they will take the vaccine when it becomes available. While 26.52% agreed to take the vaccine and 16.5% said they will not. However, if we look at each country individually we see that out of the seven countries surveyed, there are noticeable differences between some countries. Nigeria followed by Tanzania and Kenya had the highest willingness (purple bar) to take the vaccine with 38.55%, 30.62%, and 29.21% respectively compared to South Africa and Ghana who were largely unsure about taking the vaccine; neither agree nor disagree, with 74.8% and 63.41% respectively. This indicates that a huge chunk of the population was hesitant about taking the vaccine once it became available.

This brings the question, do cultural differences play a role? Africa is diverse in its cultures and traditions thus bringing about different ways of handling situations compared to other nations. If we take a look at Nigeria for example, being a Muslim-dominated country and very diverse in culture, they seem to be the most willing country to take the vaccine with 38.55% of the people surveyed agreeing compared to the other countries. The African way of life is very community-oriented as well which is apparent in their funeral procession, weddings, and so forth. Is this why social distancing, wearing masks, and even lockdowns have been unsuccessful? Being deeply rooted in their beliefs has guided their actions for centuries. This is apparent with how Africa responded to Covid-19 by using more natural remedies to cure and/or prevent one from getting the virus without much success. This action alone is enough to point out that Africans are wary of western vaccines if not medicine. One size truly does not fit all but for Africans, Covid-19 seemed more of a western disease than an African one hence the failure to contain it.

According to Devex key concerns of people with regards to the vaccine include not having enough trust in the safety of the vaccine, denial that the virus exists or that they personally are at risk of catching it, that the vaccine can actually give a person COVID-19 or that the vaccine was developed and manufactured too fast.”

With a continent that is deeply rooted in its culture, traditions, and beliefs we can see how the above concerns are fueling vaccine skepticism.

This leads to the second question; does the origin of the disease play a role as well? For a disease that did not originate from Africa, African’s are having a tough time adjusting to the measures needed to control and reduce the infection rates. If we take a look at Ebola, which originated in West Africa and has a higher mortality rate than Covid-19, its spread was contained really well. However, the nature of the disease could have had something to do with it. Unlike Covid-19, Ebola is spread through contact with an infected person, hence easier to isolate and quarantine cases. Wherewith Covid-19 you can easily spread the virus without being symptomatic and with Africa being community-oriented, Covid-19 has spread like wildfire. Therefore the nature of the Covid-19 virus has disrupted the African way of life thus making the measures necessary to contain it unsuccessful.

A lot of work needs to be done by the government and health ministries in educating the population about the nature of the virus and what the vaccine means for their future economic prospects. There seems to be a lot of misinformation about the efficacy and effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine and if the governments fail to convince people to take it, it could hinder their recovery efforts and thus affect their GDP in the long run. What this indicates as well is that trusted sources to provide messages and information are needed to reach the people such as churches, mosques, etc so as to increase vaccine acceptance. Governments need to take into account different channels and community avenues to reach a wider audience but they also need to address community concerns so as to change people’s vaccine perceptions.

This does not mean the private sector or brands bear no responsibility. In order for businesses to meet their consumer demands, they need to understand what their customers want. This also means educating their customers about the vaccine and what that would mean for their livelihoods and for the business. Collaboration between the public and private sectors is key in increasing Africa’s vaccine acceptance however effective and consistent communication is paramount if Africa is looking to recover in the near future.

This pandemic has brought to light on a global scale the various weaknesses that the African continent and its constituent countries face. From the insufficient health services and lack of resources to not having the infrastructures in place to produce our own vaccine let alone the funds required to keep the economy afloat in such crises. This pandemic has highlighted how debt-driven the continent is and how dependent it is on outside help. Africa has the capacity and resources to do better and persevere but the solution to the problems lies with its people and governments. Systemic changes need to be made for Africa to come out strong in the face of adversities. Such changes start with the people especially when it comes to taking safety measures and their view on vaccines.

By Asnath Ndosi, Marketing Associate.

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