By Omar Bah
At least 500, 000 Gambians have taken the covid-19 vaccines as health officials intensified efforts to counter misconceptions surrounding the vaccines in an attempt to meet WHO’s 70 percent target.
In 2020, the first COVID-19 vaccines were developed and made available to the public through emergency use authorization. The creation and distribution of the vaccines was celebrated by many people, especially those in healthcare as a vital step in decreasing and bringing an end to the pandemic.
However, some wrong or unconfirmed information regarding it were and still being spread within communities that the vaccine causes death and exposes those who took it to reproductive health problems.
The Gambia’s health officials just like their counterparts around the world launched a massive sensitisation campaign countering those misconceptions.
Adama Makasuba, a respected journalist and editor at The Voice Newspaper, told The Standard: “At first, I didn’t have trust in the vaccine. But now, I have full trust in it and I am convinced to take it. I want to implore anyone who is yet to take the jab to quickly go and get vaccinated in order to protect yourself and others around you.”
It is also rumoured that the vaccine has side effects as some people developed blood clots after taking the jab.
But Lamin Ceesay, who was among the first Gambians to take the vaccine, said he has not noticed any side effects after taking the jab. “I think people were just carried away by the misinformation surrounding the coronavirus and because it has not devastated the Gambia like those in other countries, people think even if they catch the virus they will heal,” Ceesay said.
What have the health officials done right?
Talking to The Standard on the measures taken by the Ministry of Health to change the narrative, the Director of Health Promotion, Modou Njie said when they realised that social media had a big impact on the Covid vaccination uptakes, they strengthened their risk communication and community engagement to raise awareness on the importance of the vaccine and its safety.
“We also spread messages to dispel rumours around the vaccine and this has also helped. We have also used influential leaders such as religious leaders and several government civil servants and the leadership shown by the president in taking the vaccine with his entire family has encouraged many people to take it,” Njie said.
He said there has been a lot of work on the ground to convince people to take the vaccine.
“We were able to work with the communities by encouraging their own people to take the lead. We have also used the media perfectly by taking advantage of the relationship we share. We have also used radio programs, traditional leaders and women groups,” he said.
Njie, who also doubles as Chairman of the Risk Communication and Community Engagement Campaign, said the biggest challenge the ministry had was the misconception especially claims that the vaccine causes infertility. He said they have times where they had to destroy some of the vaccines because they outlived their time.
“Some people are still reluctant and understandably because you cannot convince everybody at the same time but it is refreshing to announce that we have around 20% of the population vaccinated. We are now targeting the WHO 70% coverage before the end of year,” he said.