Removing fear from the vaccine conversation
The COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Guinea-Bissau
The active cases of COVID-19 in Guinea-Bissau as the month of May closed, stood at 176. Men between the ages of 25 and 34 are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Women in that age group are also seemingly more vulnerable than other those in other age groups.
Since the last state of calamity was decreed by the Bissau-Guinean Council of Ministers in Bissau, there has been a downward trend in the total number of cases of COVID-19. Considering both the declining numbers and the need to continually administer preventive measures, the Council of Ministers reduced the level of emergency from a State of Calamity to begin on the 20th of May 2021.
In preparation for the vaccination campaign that restarted in the country on the 22nd of May 2021, nurses across the Autonomous Sector of Bissau, and the Biombo and Bafatá regions went through a retraining programme to make sure the campaign would be a successful one. Part of this training included communication, aimed at promoting trust between the population and the vaccine administrators.
Throughout the week, vaccinators, sensitisers and other volunteers worked through the sweltering heat to make sure that the 28,800 doses received through the COVAX mechanism, that is facilitated through a partnership between UNICEF, GAVI, CEPI and WHO, were being administered across urban, peri-urban and rural regions.
In a modest vaccination post equipped with sanitisation equipment that encouraged the population to take up preventive behaviours, elders of Dorse village in the Biombo region sat patiently to be called to the front, some more nervous than others, but still grateful that they were not being neglected by the campaign. They were glad to know that they would not be left to fend for themselves against the COVID-19 pandemic. Maria Ié, an elderly woman from Dorse expressed that she was glad that she could be vaccinated so close to her home.
Taking on her training in stride, vaccinator Silvina Lopes, did her best to make sure that members of the community felt safe in her hands and knew which steps to follow up with after receiving their vaccination cards. Many members of the Dorse community did not speak creole, so she often behaved as a translator, explaining how the vaccine worked and, in the interest of full disclosure, explaining potential side effects. She explains her methods in communicating with the population.
“We tell people that we got vaccinated first and that we are still okay, so that they are less scared. It’s important that we do it like this because sometimes they receive calls from family abroad, telling them that the vaccine is harmful and that they can die from it. By telling them we received it too, we show them that they will also be okay.”
Even in the case of side-effects, Lopes asks them not to worry because they would not be abandoned right after it was administered. Two phone numbers were provided to the population in case of any side-effects, and she assured them that they were welcome to go to the health centre where they got vaccinated at any time.
She was also the one who vaccinated the Chief Casma Có of Ondame, also in the Biombo region. Before inoculating Có, the regional campaign coordinator, doctor Júlio Santos explained “if you get vaccinated you won’t be able to infect each other. Before there was a vaccine we were struggling against the virus, but now that there is one the illness has lost some strength,” he told the Chief.
In his own address, Chief Có assured the vaccination team that he would play his part in making sure there would be vaccine uptake among the members of his community.
“I am afraid of many things, but I am very afraid of fever. COVID-19 is even worse, so I’m grateful for this vaccine.”
In an apparent show of trust, he sat calmly as Lopes inoculated him against the virus that we have all grappled with for the past year. Knowing that a trusted person has been vaccinated has encouraged citizens in villages and towns across the three regions to seek out their first doses of the vaccine too.
With the continued dedication of traditional leaders in collaborating with vaccination teams, Guinea-Bissau will manage to curb the infectious disease. Word of mouth is a central force when it comes to promoting the vaccination campaign. Good communication between health teams and the members of their communities, and even within those communities themselves are central to making sure we combat this illness effectively because that one extra person being protected does so much in protecting others.
Guinea-Bissau received 28,800 COVID-19 vaccine doses shipped via the COVAX Facility, a partnership between CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO. It was a tremendous step towards our goal of ensuring equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally, in what will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history.
COVAX partners have been supporting governments and partners in readiness efforts, in preparation for this moment. They have been especially active in working with some of the world’s poorest countries: those that will benefit from the Advance Market Commitment (AMC), an innovative financial mechanism to help secure global and equitable access for COVID-19 vaccines.