Community Led Action helps to improve COVID-19 vaccine coverage in Sierra Leone
An effort to increase COVID-19 vaccine coverage
Karene - At Mamanso village in Karene, North of Sierra Leone, Modu B. Bangura is ready to welcome Mohamed Bah, a Social Mobiliser, as he does his routine visit to Mamanso village, where sensitisation on COVID-19 vaccination is ongoing. A year ago, when Mohamed started making these regular visits to encourage people to take the COVID-19 vaccines, Modu would lock himself and his family in the house, uninterested in hearing any of the messages that were being shared.
“We heard about COVID-19 vaccines last year, but at that time, we also heard that these vaccines were coming to eliminate our population. I therefore refused to take the shot and I also warned my family and friends not to take the vaccines,” says Modu, who today leads the call for more people to get vaccinated.
In March 2021, Sierra Leone received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, and immediately launched a nationwide distribution of these approved COVID-19 vaccines. However, getting people to take this lifesaving shot proved difficult as a barrage of rumours, myths, hesitancy and mistrust thwarted efforts to reach the national vaccine coverage target of 70 per cent by end of December 2022.
To dispel misinformation and increase willingness of the communities to get vaccinated, UNICEF partnered with GOAL, an implementing partner to support scaling-up the deployment of a hybrid outreach service model, the Community-Led Action (CLA).
With funding from USAID, 1,310 CLA mobilisers such as Mohamed, have been deployed in Bo, Bonthe, Moyamba, Tonkolili, Port Loko, Bombali, Western Area Urban, and Western Area Rural since July 2022, where they engage with communities to discuss the safety, use and access of COVID-19 vaccines. CLAs also answer questions and address concerns about COVID-19 vaccines and help communities to follow-up on the implementation of the COVID-19 community action plans – plans developed by communities on how to increase vaccination rates to prevent the spread of diseases in their communities.
Since November 2021, the CLA mobilisers have visited villages such as Mamanso where the partnership between CLA mobilisers and community leaders and members such as Modu has helped to dispel rumours , making people more comfortable to receive at least their first shots of the vaccine.
“After seeing that Mohamed continued to come to the village even months after receiving his own vaccination, I began to realize that all these were just rumours,” says Modu as he proudly shows the blue card which confirms that he received his first shot of the COVID-19 in November 2022.
“I am very grateful that he did not give up on us and gave us the opportunity to understand that there was no harm in the vaccine and that we will be well protected against COVID-19 if we are vaccinated. Now my wife and three of my children are also vaccinated.”
Modu’s testimony demonstrates how the tireless follow-up on vaccine resistors by CLAs, is paying off. The number of fully vaccinated people is increasing across the country, and to date more than3.5million people have been vaccinated with at least the first dose of vaccine.
“Community Led Action volunteers have played a significant role in supporting leadership of communities to achieve COVID-19 vaccination coverage and bringing services closer to those communities,” says Cindy Thai Thien Nghia, Social and Behaviour Change Specialist with UNICEF.
Back at Mamanso village, Modu and his family have now made personal decisions to add their voices to motivate their community members to also get vaccinated.