Mobile Vaccination Teams continue to sensitise and vaccinate people in Bo District against COVID-19
Taking COVID-19 vaccines closer to communities
Bo – With mixed feelings of fear and and excitement, Theresa Lusainie, a nurse and vaccinator in Bo, southern Sierra Leone and her team of three, walked over a makeshift bridge made up of coconut tree trunks to access Patema village which lies across a stream. The mobile vaccination team, which comprises of a nurse/vaccinator, social mobilizer, and data entry aide, was going to vaccinate people living in hard-to-reach communities in Bo District against COVID-19. For many, it would be their first shot against COVID-19.
At Patema village, Theresa and her team received a warm welcome, and a small group of curious villagers gathered around to listen to their messages. Meanwhile the social mobilizer had gone around echoing COVID-19 vaccination messages and encouraging people to go to the vaccination point that had been temporarily set up in the centre of the village.
“We sometimes walk up to 10 miles a day, crossing makeshift bridges and walking over hills to reach people living in hard-to-reach communities so that we could educate and vaccinate them against COVID-19,” said Theresa.
Given the need for increased sensitization and education programmes to create better understanding of COVID-19 and acceptance of the vaccines at the community level, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), provided support through UNICEF Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and civil society groups for the implementation of “COVID-19 Vaccines Readiness and Deployment Activities”. These activities include the mobilization and deployment of 16 COVID-19 mobile vaccination teams across the country, including in Bo, to reach out to hundreds of people in especially hard-to-reach communities and in high-risk groups with much needed community sensitization, education and mass vaccination programmes.
After a little bit of hesitation and mixed reactions from the villagers, a young lady, Hannah Kellie, who was born in Patema village but now resides in a big urban settlement, volunteered to take the first COVID-19 vaccine shot. Her action was immediately followed by over a dozen people coming forward to be vaccinated.
“If I had not taken the vaccine in front of everybody, the vaccination team would have spent more time trying to persuade them to take it,” Hannah explained. “They see me as a trusted influencer since I am part of them.”
Since then, Theresa and her team have been traversing dozens of communities in Bo District, educating, mobilizing and vaccinating hundreds of people against COVID-19.
“Our mobile vaccination team has been very dynamic and active, and we have covered more than 150 communities often without vehicles or motor bikes, educating, mobilizing and vaccinating hundreds of people against the disease,” Theresa continued. “We back these exercises with radio sensitization programmes, posters, banners and focus group discussions to persuade communities to accept the vaccine and be protected against the disease.”
“When we started this mobile vaccination campaign almost two years ago, it was somehow difficult to get community buy-in and support for it as there were widespread apprehension and rumours around COVID-19 vaccines. But now it is becoming easier since little or no medical complications are reported by those who have taken the vaccine,” she added. “Many people are even coming forward to take booster shots as they now believe the efficacy of the vaccine and those who took it several months ago are still healthy and strong and going about their normal business”.
To date, a total of 4,398,972 people aged 12 years and above in Sierra Leone (about 82.5 per cent of the target population) have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Theresa and her team are proud that their mobile vaccination team has contributed significantly toward reducing the spread of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone by educating, sensitizing and vaccinating people against the disease.