Vaccination volunteer goes the extra mile for health

Response to COVID-19

Regular immunization of children
27 June 2022

Obiliq, 10 June – When Nazmije Hoxhaj met the Berisha family, she found out that the two oldest children – Xhemajl, 10 and Amina, 4 - were fully vaccinated but the younger siblings – Ebubekr, 5 and Advan, 2 - were not.

Ms. Hoxhaj met the family as part of her work as a volunteer, which aims to increase the number of vaccinated children in her municipality.

The children’s parents Sherif and Valentina Berisha told Ms. Hoxhaj that, before COVID-19, they had been convinced that vaccinations were the best way to protect their children from diseases. However, during the pandemic, they were afraid to take their children to the health clinic in case they got infected by the virus there.

They were also suspicious of the COVID-19 vaccination.

Regular immunization of children

Many parents in Kosovo have been influenced by misinformation related to COVID-19 vaccines. They are worried that if they take their children for regular vaccinations against such diseases as polio and measles, nurses will also vaccinate them against COVID-19 without consent.

Ms. Hoxhaj explained to the Berishas that this would not happen.

She then went a step further.

She organized the children’s vaccination appointment at the municipal health clinic and drove the family there in her own car.

Prior to the pandemic, Kosovo already had challenges with  routine vaccination coverage: in 2019, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, and only 73 per cent of children were fully immunized. And even more striking are the inequalities in vaccination coverage, with only 38 percent of children from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities fully immunized.

Data presented by the National Institute of Public Health this year shows a concerning drop in coverage following the pandemic, which, considering the pre-existing inequity issues, may especially affect the most vulnerable children.

Regular immunization of children

That is why Balkan Sunflowers Kosovo has mobilized a large team of volunteers and mentors like Ms. Hoxhaj, who conduct outreach to increase vaccinations in 14 municipalities.

Ms. Hoxhaj is very motivated to ensure that as many children as possible are vaccinated in her community.

“Regular vaccination of children is the best way to protect them from infectious diseases,” she said.

The volunteer project, supported by UNICEF as part of the European Union’s assistance package for Western Balkans in response to COVID-19, has helped improve the health of many children like Ebubekr and Advan.

Regular immunization of children

Ebubekr and Advan’s parents are now advocates for vaccinations. They are confident that they made the right decision for their youngest children. In 2022, over 5,000 families were visited door-to-door by volunteers to identify children with missed vaccines. As a result of their efforts over 1,500 children with incomplete vaccination records were vaccinated by the health authorities c through catch-up immunization sessions.