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Experts befuddled by 'mysterious' fact that Africa is less than 6% vaccinated but has avoided COVID disaster — unlike Europe and the US

Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images

What is going on in Africa?

That's the question that has so-called medical experts scratching their heads as they examine the COVID-19 data coming out of the continent.

According to a report Friday from the Associated Press, while less than 6% of the people of Africa are vaccinated, the nations on the continent are seeing fewer cases and deaths than the West — and pretty much the rest of the world.

When the coronavirus first reared its head early last year, experts around the world worried that the pandemic would kill millions of people in a sweep across Africa, the AP said. But that fear has yet to come even close to being realized.

Though scientists warn that it is difficult to get accurate COVID information in African countries, they did note that COVID-case trends are continuing to decline. For example, in Zimbabwe this week, only 33 new cases and zero deaths were reported, and the World Health Organization's data reveal that COVID infections in the country have been dropping since July.

The AP offered a story of what Zimbabweans have been experiencing:

At a busy market in a poor township outside Harare this week, Nyasha Ndou kept his mask in his pocket, as hundreds of other people, mostly unmasked, jostled to buy and sell fruit and vegetables displayed on wooden tables and plastic sheets. As in much of Zimbabwe, here the coronavirus is quickly being relegated to the past, as political rallies, concerts and home gatherings have returned.

“COVID-19 is gone, when did you last hear of anyone who has died of COVID-19?" Ndou said. “The mask is to protect my pocket," he said. “The police demand bribes so I lose money if I don't move around with a mask."

One health expert called what's going on in Africa "mysterious," the AP reported. Wafaa El-Sadr, chair of global health at Columbia University, said, "Africa doesn't have the vaccines and the resources to fight COVID-19 that they have in Europe and the U.S., but somehow they seem to be doing better," the outlet revealed.

And the World Health Organization has said in its weekly reports that even though such a minute share of the population is vaccinated, Africa continues to be "one of the least affected regions in the world."

Some experts are wondering if Africa's younger population could be key. The AP noted that the average age in Africa is 20 compared to the average age of 43 in Western Europe.

Other researchers have suggested that lower levels of urbanization and lives lived more outdoors may be playing a role. Others are studying whether genetic reasons or prior exposure to other diseases could have an impact on Africa's COVID numbers.

Whatever is happening in Africa is preventing serious losses of life from the virus. According to the AP, WHO's data show that COVID deaths in Africa make up a mere 3% of the global total, while deaths in North and South America account for 46% and deaths in Europe make up 29%.

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