Tuesday, March 28

Covid-19 vaccination: A sharp change of decisions towards the vaccine hesitancy in the North Bank Region

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By Yunus S Saliu

As the Covid-19 refuses to vamoose while many people are gradually weakening in observing some of the Covid-19 preventive measures as issued by the WHO and the Ministry of Health, The Gambia Ministry of Health has developed a strategy to make more people take the Covid-19 vaccine to curb the spread and contact of the Coronavirus.

The tranche of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine was first received in June 2021, and later Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine was rolled out in the country on 5th July 2021 and the same month, precisely 20th July 2021 the Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine was also received for the benefit of everyone across the country.

With the availability of these vaccines, a very little percentage of the Gambia population was out to take the vaccine at the various health facilities, a great concern to the government, especially the Ministry of Health that is working with a target. But they are confronted with lots of challenges to meet a set target.

Factors responsible for these challenges and Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy as identified include misinformation, disinformation, and denial circulating through social media, a concern for everyone. Negative information from social media is thwarting the efforts of the government and other relevant organizations from convincing people to take the vaccine.

Strategic Effort of Ministry of Health

To enable the Ministry of Health to meet its target of 70% of the population vaccinated by end of the year 2022 in The Gambia, the Ministry intensifies the Covid-19 campaign across the country and as well developed a new plan. The Covid-19 vaccination teams, as part of the strategy, were deployed to various regions across the country to take the vaccination to nooks and crannies of every settlement.

This strategy has brought a sharp change in decisions regarding vaccine hesitancy in the North Bank Region (NBR), other regions, and councils across the country.

Abdoullie Jarju, the Regional Director of the Health Directorate in Farafenni North Bank Region disclosed that since the start of the Covid-19 vaccination in March 2021 it is of the present time that verse improvements are recorded in terms of the coverage and people taking the vaccine.

The sharp change of mind towards the vaccine, he affirmed, was a result of the style of campaign adopted in the North Bank and other regions “because when we start the vaccination there were lots of rumors surrounding the potency of the vaccine. These rumors include a total misconception about the vaccine. This made so many people hesitant to take it.”

He quickly added that “here in Farafenni and other health directorates throughout North Bank Region the Health Education and Promotion of the Ministry of Health with other partners which include WHO, UNICEF created a social mobilization and social behavior team that goes from one community to another and from house to house to talk to people about the importance and benefit of Covid-19 vaccine.” 

Jainaba Jarju is an early middle age woman and a tailor in Farafenni, she explained “alhamdulillah (all Praises be to Allah), things her now picking up gradually compared to this period of last year. People are now taking the Corona injection (Covid-19 vaccine). This is because we (women) are now realizing the importance of it we thank the mobilization team (social mobilization and social behavior team) for making us understand the importance of the injection (vaccine).” 

In her explanation, many people especially the women folk have realized that taking the injection gives them relaxation mind as no one worries no more, in particular, the majority of the people are no more practicing the Covid-19 preventive measure which she is against.

“It is hard to see people remember to watch their hands with soap under running water, so also using facemask around while nobody remembers to keep social distancing here,” she revealed.

Ya Ida Bittaye also from Farafenni is a full-time housewife in her 50s, she is not literate but married to an educated man, she was hesitant about the Covid-19 vaccine until a few months back when two of her daughters have the opportunity to go join their father abroad.

“I realized that taking the jab is important when my two daughters said it is part of the required document if they want to travel. I put aside all the mal-information that I have heard through the different Whatsapp pages and matched with them to the vaccination center for the jab,” she explained funnily.

“Seriously,” she said, “The mobilization team is doing well and since the start of the house-to-house campaign in December 2021 I think more people are turning up for the vaccine,” she added.

Aja Jabang in Essau North Bank Region like other women disclosed that they have been misinformed in the past through some untrue stories from social media but now realized the truth.

She said far from some fearful information circulating about the vaccine, “I took the vaccine but I don’t have any negative effect compared to information some people were passing around within the community to create confusion about it.”

“These days everybody is taking it, with the just concluded Hajj Package many people have seen that it is international request to take the vaccines. It is meant to protect anyone that takes it. You will be free and confident to move around, I have taken it,” the old woman pointed to her covid-19 vaccination card.

More Campaigns from Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health whose target is to have 70% of the population vaccinated by the end of the year 2022 has again deployed its vaccination teams on another round of a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

In a presentation by Aja Kandeh, the Communication Officer at the MOH she gave an elaborate presentation on the Covid-19 vaccination while she disclosed that as of 9th August 2022, 494,512 doses were administered – people already vaccinated across the country.

She noted that out of this number, fixed session doses were 179,923 people vaccinated at the health facilities and outreach doses are 314,589 people. This means that the outreach team population vaccinated more than the team at based sites or health facilities, “so the outreach method is effective.”

So far, as of 9th August 2022, the Covid-19 vaccination updates breakdown of the doses administered by regions in the country shows as follows: Number of doses administered in WR1 – Male – 88784, Female -92644 (181428); WR2 – Male – 33542, Female – 40988 (74530); URR – Male – 31942, Female – 41865 (73807); CRR – Male – 25249, Female -39476 (64725); LRR – Male 14035, Female – 23902 (37937); NBWR – Male 13792, Female – 21253 (35045) and NBER – Male – 10134, Female – 16906 (27040). With this update, the numbers of vaccinated female in the country are more than male throughout all the regions.

This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against Covid-19 in partnership with Kebba Communication and The Voice newspaper.