Encouraging vaccine acceptance

Hearing from health workers

By Lulutani Tembo
Senior nurse, Monalisa Tembo preparing a COVID-19 vaccine at Mzuzu Field Hospital preparing a vaccine dose for a client
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Sukali
27 May 2021

Vaccines have always been critical in protecting communities against diseases. The availability of the COVID-19 vaccines was a relief for many, despite some people still feeling uncertain about being vaccinated. In Malawi, 360,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were procured via the COVAX Facility, a partnership between CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO. In total the country received 512,000 doses following contributions from other development partners.  

Frontline health workers were first in line to get vaccinated. As of 5th June 2021, 358,989 people had received the jab, with over 40,045 of them being health workers. For many of them, getting vaccinated was essential as the overwhelming impacts of the COVID-19 response took their work to another level.

Gilbertha Chisamba Bayira, a nurse at Kameza Treatment Unit in Blantyre
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Sukali
Gilbertha Chisamba Bayira, a nurse at Kameza Treatment Unit in Blantyre

Malawi’s commercial city of Blantyre was one of the COVID-19 hotspots during the first and second wave. Health workers at Kameza Emergency Treatment Unit (ETU) in Blantyre were working tirelessly to respond to the needs of patients. Nurse Gilbertha Chisamba Bayira, is one of them. After receiving her first dose she felt a new sense of reassurance, knowing that her body has a shield against COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic affected many people and caused a lot of deaths. When both frontline workers and the general population get vaccinated, this will help in ensuring that children are healthy, as their parents will be healthy and can provide for their children. Parents will also be able to send their children to school,” she says calmly. “For those who haven't been vaccinated I urge you all to get vaccinated. The vaccine is not dangerous and will help to protect you from COVID-19. Don’t get carried away with what you see on social media.” She adds.

Clinician Keni Lowa in his office at Kameza ETU
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Sukali
Clinician Keni Lowa in his office at Kameza ETU

A clinician at the ETU, Keni Lowa has similar sentiments on the importance of getting vaccinated.

"Health workers are supposed to be vaccinated because they are frontline workers, which puts them at risk of contracting the virus. The general population is also supposed to be vaccinated because we have a lot of people out there with comorbidities Getting them vaccinated will reduce the possibility of getting severely sick. After I was vaccinated, I have been working with courage. I am urging everyone to get vaccinated because this virus is deadly. Let us stop it from killing more people than it has already done. After everyone has received the COVID-19 vaccination, I am sure we will be living in a safer country."

HSA Tamara Katuli during a growth monitoring session
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Sukali
HSA Tamara Katuli during a growth monitoring session

In the rural parts of Blantyre, health surveillance assistants (HSAs) attend to mothers and their children to conduct weekly village clinics. Tamara Katuli, an HSA at Madziabango Health Centre knows how critical COVID-19 vaccination efforts are in ensuring the continuation of vital services for every child. When she gets to work every morning, she opens the fridge where they store different types of vaccines for children. Once she checks the fridge temperature and registers the readings on the temperature chart, she starts her work, conducting growth monitoring sessions for children under five-years-old and routine immunization.

“My whole family, including myself, got vaccinated against COVID-19. It was a relief because we were so afraid of COVID-19, but after getting vaccinated, we feel safer,” she explains with confidence.  “When I got vaccinated, I did not experience any serious side effects. In the afternoon I had a fever, but the following day I was fine, and I have not felt anything to this day. I am protected and have no problems with this vaccine.”

Wellington Kaima serving a mother and her infant child at Makata Health Centre Wellington Kaima serving a mother and her infant child at Makata Health Centre
UNICEF Malawi/2021/Sukali
Wellington Kaima serving a mother and her infant child at Makata Health Centre

Another HSA, Wellington Kaima from Makata Health Centre in the outskirts of Blantyre, also plays a key role in helping children in his community.

“COVID-19 is real, and this is the reason why I got vaccinated.  Let us get vaccinated so we can protect our country and our health. The development of our country will be affected if the population is unhealthy. I am encouraging everyone to go to their nearest health centre and get vaccinated. Don't hesitate, the vaccine is free.”

 With funding from the Irish Government, UNICEF, Red Cross and the Ministry of Health are using testimonies from health workers to promote vaccine acceptance by all eligible individuals.

The COVID-19 vaccination roll-out is not only historic but key for reimagining a better future for children who have been directly or indirectly impacted by the pandemic.  The vaccines are safe and effective. Despite this, UNICEF is urging everyone to continue to wear masks, wash hands with soap regularly and practice physical distancing.