Community, religious leaders join healthcare workers to tackle vaccine hesitancy in Region 2
-initiative is supported by UNICEF and USAID
ANNA REGINA, 15 MARCH 2022 – Forty (40) healthcare, community and religious leaders are being trained to tackle vaccine hesitancy in Region 2. Led by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the three-day workshop commenced in Anna Regina on Monday with the opening session attended by the Hon. Dr. Frank Anthony, Minister of Health of Guyana; Hon. Nigel Dharamlall, the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development; Sarah-Ann Lynch, the U.S. Ambassador to Guyana; Irfan Akhtar, UNICEF Deputy Representative; Clinton White, the USAID Regional Representative for the Eastern and Southern Caribbean; Vilma Da Silva, Regional Chairman, and other officials.
Among the topics being covered during the workshop are strategies to improve vaccination uptake, community engagement, health communication strategies and development of implementation plans. According to Ministry of Health data, Region Two, which covers the Essequibo Coast, falls below the national average in vaccine uptake. In his remarks at the event, Minister Anthony said that only 67.9 per cent of eligible adults in Region Two took the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine compared to the national average of 85 per cent while for the second dose, the figure for Region 2 stands at 53 per cent while the national average is 65 per cent.
The minister said that the government with support from partners including UNICEF and USAID has invested significantly to ensure that vaccines are available for all. “Our call to you today is really for you to brainstorm and think through the issues that are affecting your region,” said Minister Anthony. He encouraged the participants to think about how they can change minds and turn those who may be skeptical of the vaccines to become advocates for the vaccines. “The hardest thing now is trying to persuade people to come and get the vaccine. And that’s where we really need your help because we cannot continue like this,” said the Minister.
In his remarks, UNICEF Deputy Representative Akhtar said that engagement at the community level is critical to reaching individuals who have not taken the step to protect themselves from COVID-19. “This workshop aims to improve knowledge and skills of our committed health workers as well as community leaders to tackle vaccine hesitancy and misinformation to continue their great work,” said Akhtar. “UNICEF remains committed, and we will continue to leverage our partnership to strengthen health and immunization systems in Guyana, because we recognize that the pandemic will not be over for anyone until it is over for everyone,” he added.
“Vaccine hesitancy is one of the major barriers to ensure a return to a sort of normalcy as we know it. Armed with the knowledge gained from this workshop your work will be instrumental and very important to helping people overcome their fears and their concerns surrounding vaccine hesitancy through information grounded in science, grounded in facts,” said US Ambassador Lynch. Minister Dharamlall also urged all to be involved in the effort.
Tricia Alves, the Community Health Worker based at the Abramsville Health Post said she had encountered many persons who were hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccines for various reasons. She said that the workshop has built her confidence to advocate. “This initiative…that you come on board to give us added information is very good; as health workers, sometimes we question some of the information we have; it gives us a great deal of confidence so that we can go out and people can be more convinced to come on board with us and take the vaccines,” she said. Similar sentiments were expressed by Medex Leauta Hubbard from Queenstown, who identified social media as a major source of misinformation.
Midwife Monica Samuels, who is based at the Karawab Health Post said few persons in her village had taken the vaccine, but she is hopeful this can change. “I feel more confident now and I can reach out to my people and [dispel] myths and encourage them to take the vaccines,” she said, adding that she plans to give talks at community meetings, PTA meetings, in churches, and at clinics and confidently answer any questions.
The workshop is the third in a series that will reach areas in Guyana where vaccine hesitancy is significant. Participants at this workshop are from the Essequibo Coast as well as from communities along the Pomeroon River and include toshaos, religious leaders, teachers and other influential persons in communities. The first workshop was held in Georgetown with participants from Regions Three, Four and Ten while persons from Regions One, Three, Four, Five, Six and Nine participated in a virtual workshop. Other workshops are planned for Regions Seven and Eight.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF has partnered with national authorities on the response to the crisis. Initiatives include strengthening of the immunization cold chain system, procurement of key supplies, provision of technical expertise, support to ensure continuity of learning, support to ensure that services for children continue, as well as public communication around demand generation for the COVID-19 vaccines, among others. This effort has been bolstered with support from donors including USAID.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.