Vaccines are widely known to be safe and effective in protecting people against deadly and crippling infectious diseases. Currently, there are effective vaccines against more than 20 diseases. Overall, vaccines are estimated to save the lives of up to 3 million people each year.
However, over time, immunization programs have faced several challenges, including growing public reluctance to vaccines. The reluctance has particularly affected the newly introduced COVID-19 vaccines, including the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
In the West Nile sub-region of Uganda, the response, especially among frontline health workers, has been no different. Initially, acceptance or willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine was particularly low, with only a few agreeing to be vaccinated.
For example, in Arua town, less than 10% of frontline health workers were vaccinated in the first two days and only 26% of registered health workers agreed to be vaccinated according to district records. .
“The first days of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign were marked by low participation in vaccination for a number of reasons ranging from administrative difficulties. The main one was the reluctance of the frontline health workers who were our first target, ”says Dr Apangu Pontius, Acting District Health Officer in Arua City. “We have only been able to tackle this problem and improve the participation rate by engaging in effective vaccine safety communication targeting the priority group,” he adds.
Yet health experts continued to worry about the difficulty of ending the COVID-19 pandemic without vaccinating enough people to achieve herd immunity, which is crucial as it will lead to decongestion of the herd. intensive care units, the continued provision of essential health services and the restoration of normal social and economic activities.
While many people understand the benefits of vaccination and have responded positively, a significant proportion continue to be concerned about the safety of vaccines.
WHO risk communication teams in the region have responded to these concerns by designing and delivering orientation sessions for target groups. They provide accurate and scientifically proven information about the vaccine and fight rumors and misinformation. This has contributed to increased use of the vaccine among frontline health workers, teachers and security personnel.
“Without the continuing medical education on COVID-19 vaccination organized at the facility by the WHO and the district health team, I would not have accepted this Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. He received a lot of negative publicity on social networks and in the news regarding the formation of blood clots in a few people, ”says Sister Hellen Lumago, head of the Lodonga IV Health Center.
Despite the achievements to date, a multitude of gaps and challenges remain in the population, especially with regard to vaccine safety. This is inevitable and expected especially when introducing a new vaccine.
An effective risk communication strategy can go a long way in allaying concerns, responding to rumors and misinformation and, in the process, contributing to wider coverage and containment of the epidemic. This is exactly what health workers in the West Nile subregion do.
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