Increased supplies of COVID-19 vaccines help in taking the vaccines closer to people

An effort to increase COVID-19 vaccine coverage

Tapuwa Mutseyekwa
A nurse injects a man with a dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
30 September 2021

Wellington: Sierra Leone - Charles Kamara (61 years) works as a security guard at Wellington Community Health Centre, in the Western Area Rural District of Sierra Leone. His workstation gives him the advantage to clearly see the movement of people arriving to receive health services and notice them upon their departure.

This strategic work location has today helped Charles to make an important decision about how to protect himself and others from COVID-19.

“When a COVID-19 vaccination outpost was set up at the Health Centre, I was one of the people who was not happy about seeing this at the health centre. I had heard a lot of bad things about COVID-19 vaccines and I wondered why they would now bring these vaccines to our Health Centre,” says Charles, as he explains how cynical he was when at first he saw nurses rolling out the COVID-19 vaccination.   

“But since August, I have been seeing people coming here daily. I have seen them being given their vaccines and going back home,” says Charles, as today he calmly takes his position to also receive his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. “Seeing people being vaccinated and seeing that the vaccine does not make them sick, has made me realise how misguided I have been. I have now made my decision to also get vaccinated,” says Charles, as he elaborates how convinced he is about the safety of the vaccine.

Since March 2021, Sierra Leone has rolled out a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination drive, initially targeting health workers, people over 60 years and those with underlying health conditions. As a key partner in Government’s COVID-19 response, UNICEF has led the procurement and supply of vaccines and has to date ensured the safe and timely delivery of 615,000 different types of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility and also through the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT). 

The Government of France and United States Government are among the countries who have donated the vaccine doses received by Sierra Leone through the COVAX Facility during the reporting period, while the World Bank, through the African Union has supported AVAT.

As more vaccines have become available, vaccination has now been extended to include people who are 18 years and older. This welcome arrival of varied vaccines such as Astra Zeneca, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson, has also made it possible for Government to ramp up outreach centres to bring vaccines closer to people with the ambition to reach more than 20% of the 4.2 million eligible population with vaccines.

With more outreach centres established across the country and additional trained health workers, people in various communities have been saved the burden of making long trips to vaccination points, which were initially at centralised locations. Since the setting up of an outreach point at Wellington Community Health Centre, up to 20 people daily walk through the facility gate to receive a vaccine.

Two nurses get vaccines ready for administration.
Nurses Awanatu J Caulker (L) and Francise A. Koroma (R) have received training on how to admister the vaccines and how to maintain them at the best temperature.

According to official statistics, this outreach exercise has helped boost immunisation coverage and as of the end of September, more than396, 505 adults had received their first shots of a COVID-19 vaccine, while more than 89, 902 had already received a second dose. 

“People used to lie and say you would get sick from getting the vaccine, but I have been seeing people being vaccinated and going back home – walking without any illness or changes in their body,” says a confident Charles, as he sits through the procedural 30minutes observation time after receiving a jab.

With support from GAVI, UNICEF has also supported the outreach exercise through the boosting of Cold Chain Equipment. For example, Wellington Community Health Centre received six new vaccine carriers, which are used for the daily collection of vaccines from the District Health Management Team (DHMT) to the health centre.  

This complementary support to the cold chain system has ensured that Wellington Community health centre introduces COVID-19 vaccines, without compromising the continuity of the regular Expanded Programme on Immunization.

“Commendable efforts have been made by partners and donors to ensure the regular supply of COVID-19 vaccines to Sierra Leone, which has made it possible to reach more people quickly and safely with this protective shield against COVID-19,” said UNICEF Chief of Health and Nutrition, Yuki Suehiro.

After going through the vaccination and observation, Charles returns to his workstation, noting that he will look forward to receiving more people who will come to the health centre to also receive their vaccination.