World Health Organisation says 33 million children in Africa need to be vaccinated within two years

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  • The World Health Organisation says there’s a need for intensive vaccination of children to bring Africa on track to the 2030 global immunisation target.
  • Africa is home to 50% of the world’s share of unvaccinated children.
  • WHO is celebrating immunisation week with the launch of its mRNA vaccine technology hub in Cape Town. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 33 million children in Africa will need vaccinations between 2023 and 2025 to put the continent back on track to meet the 2030 global immunisation goals, which include lowering morbidity and mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The organisation made this disclosure during World Immunisation Week to draw attention to the need for group activities and to encourage the use of immunisations to protect individuals of all ages from disease.

The setback was due to the sudden impact of Covid-19, which drove up the number of zero-dose and under-immunised children by 16% between 2019 and 2021.

“The pandemic has seriously set back the region’s vaccination efforts and left millions of children vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases that can cause serious illness and even death,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.

As such, the continent – with 50% of those in need of vaccinations globally – was racing against time.

“As countries strive to emerge from the long shadow of Covid-19, we cannot afford to lose further ground. Every effort must be made to ensure every child has access to essential vaccines,” she added.

Dr Joseph Cabore, director of programme management and the WHO regional office for Africa, said:

The number of children [in Africa] who have never received a single dose of vaccine, called zero-dose children, increased from 7.7 million in 2020 to 12 million in 2022.

“In 2023, 31 African countries experienced an outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases,” he said.

The Big Catch Up

The recently launched Big Catch Up campaign by the WHO will attempt to fast-track vaccination targets by directing more resources to Africa.

There are 10 priority countries that have been identified, including Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where ground was covered in vaccinating children from polio last year.

Since 2019, there was a spirited drive to vaccinate against malaria, although it was overshadowed by the onset of Covid-19.

Cabore added:

Since 2019, the world’s first malaria vaccine has been available in parts of Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi in a pilot introduction. Nearly four years on, more than 1.4 million children have received the vaccine across the three pilot countries.


Another continental health emergency was the wild poliovirus outbreak in 2020. There was also an emergence of rotavirus, but a spirited campaign stopped these diseases in their tracks.

“Wild poliovirus was interrupted in 2020, and we protected 33 million children against polio last year.

“Rotavirus vaccination has reduced deaths from rotavirus diarrhoea by 49.1 %, and all our governments have introduced the HPV vaccine,” he said.

More than 50% of countries in Africa have shown interest in the Gavi global vaccine alliance to protect people’s health by increasing equity in immunisation.

Gavi is a public–private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.

Cabore said:

At least 28 countries in Africa have applied for Gavi support to deploy the vaccine. That demonstrates the pilot’s success, the growing interest and trust of our member states in the vaccine and their eagerness to work with us to protect their populations against malaria.


Meanwhile, the WHO on Thursday launched its mRNA vaccine technology hub in Cape Town. The facility was established during the global Covid-19 pandemic era to facilitate African countries to get access to much-needed vaccines.