Nurses and other essential services targeted in first phase COVID-19 vaccination in Sierra Leone

An effort to help protect frontline workers and others from COVID-19

Tapuwa Mutseyekwa
Nurse Isatu Samah, from Waterloo Community Health Centre receiving her first shot of the vaccine.
UNICEF Sierra Leone/2021/Mutseyekwa
31 March 2021

Waterloo, Sierra Leone - As a nurse, Isatu Samah Carew has been administering vaccines to children for the past 15 years. Today, she is seated on the other end of the table at Waterloo Community Health Centre, ready to receive the all-important COVID-19 vaccine, which will protect her from the Corona Virus.  

“I have seen people from outside the country taking the COVID-19 vaccine. I am happy that today I am also getting vaccinated here in Sierra Leone,” says Isatu, as she goes through the process of registration and data verification which precedes the moment of getting vaccinated.

Healthcare workers such as Isatu, have been at the front line of the fight against COVID-19. Their proximity and regular interaction with patients, some of whom come with the COVID-19 infection, increases their risk of acquiring the disease. On the other hand, the chances of inadvertently passing the virus to patients is high when the nurse contracts the disease.

“I have been an EPI nurse for over 15 years and I therefore have confidence in the potency of vaccines to protect people from illness and death,” says Isatu, as she explains her confidence in the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines. “The vaccine is still new, and we are learning about it. I have read about how it has been well tested and that it is effective and safe, so I am convinced that this is the best step to help stop the further spread of the virus.”

“By receiving the vaccine, I also serve as an example and give confidence and assurance to the general public to also accept the vaccines,” says Isatu, as she acknowledges that as health workers, they also have a critical role to play to mobilise people to receive the vaccine.

Since 31st March 2020, the COVID-19 virus has spread across towns in Sierra Leone, causing malaise and death, while also disrupting delivery of essential services and livelihoods. Western Area Rural, where Waterloo is situated, has 13 per cent of the incident case load in the country, with 528 cases recorded to date.  

Nurses Aminata Sellu and Deborah Conteh, show their vaccination cards received after the shots they received on the first day of the vaccination rollout.
UNICEF Sierra Leone/2021/Mutseyekwa
Nurses Aminata Sellu and Deborah Conteh, show their vaccination cards received after the shots they received on the first day of the vaccination rollout.

Government of Sierra Leone, with support from partners such as UNICEF, initiated the procurement, shipment and rollout of vaccines as a measure to stop the further spread of the virus.

Through the COVAX facility, an initial shipment of 96 000 doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine arrived in the country on the 8th March 2021, and this was followed by this phased rollout, initially targeting essential workers such as nurses, teachers, social workers and members of the defence forces. By protecting these critical cohorts of frontline workers, the country has taken a critical step towards reducing transmission, ‘bending the curve’ of the pandemic, and thus essential services such as health care and education back on track.

Through the COVAX facility, Gavi, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), working in partnership with UNICEF as well as the World Bank, Civil Society Organisations and manufacturers, have collaborated to ensure the safe delivery of the WHO approved vaccines to Sierra Leone and 141 other countries across the globe. In total 528,000 doses of vaccines will be delivered to Sierra Leone through the COVAX facility, targeting 20% of the population by the end of 2021.

“Over the last year, we have witnessed how COVID-19 has claimed lives, disrupted delivery of essential services and disrupted livelihoods. The knock-on effects of the pandemic are also threatening progress in education, health, nutrition, protection and safety for children.  It is for this reason that UNICEF has been at the forefront in supporting the Government of Sierra Leone in the procurement, shipment and rollout of vaccines coming in through the COVAX facility,” said UNICEF Representative, Dr. Suleiman Braimoh.

About five miles away from where Samah has received her first shot of the vaccine, nurses at Benguema Primary Health Unit have assembled to receive the influx of defence forces personnel, who are also eager to receive their vaccinations. All the nurses at the Primary Health Unit received their vaccinations on the first day, and they are happy that no adverse events had been reported following the administration of the vaccines.

Across the country, 21,408 people had received their shots within the first two weeks of the rollout exercise.