Support towards effective COVID-19 Vaccine roll out
An effort to increase COVID-19 vaccine coverage
Since September 2022, Saffinatu Juannah’s workstation has been a modest shed, a few metres from the main gate of the office of the Western Area Urban District Health Management Team, Cline Town in Freetown.
For a young nurse who qualified just two years ago, Saffinatu never imagined that being a nurse would mean stepping outside of the usual work in clinics and hospital wards, and taking charge of a makeshift mobile station, where she is contributing to efforts to end of a major global pandemic.
Saffinatu is a vaccinator, who together with a social mobiliser and an evaluator, is responsible for administrating COVID-19 vaccines and advising people on the importance and efficacy of the approved vaccines in reducing the burden of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone.
"I am very proud of myself for taking a step out of the conventional way of working and spending the day out here vaccinating people who visit this vaccination point," says Saffinatu, as she talks through layers of complexity and fulfilment that have come with this assignment. “I qualified as a nurse in 2020 and working in the hospital ward to help COVID-19 patients was one of the first assignments I had to undertake.”
“I saw a lot of the suffering and pain that people went through while in the hospital wards. I am happy that vaccines are now available globally and in Sierra Leone to save people from the misery of getting COVID-19,” says Saffinatu, as she explains the tremendous benefits of getting more people vaccinated against this deadly virus.
Sierra Leone received the first shipment of COVID-19 Vaccines on the 8th of March 2021. This was after a year of lives lost and health services severely strained to accommodate the rising number of COVID-19 patients/cases.
The arrival of the vaccines was therefore a welcome step towards bringing this pandemic to an end. However, the introduction of this new vaccine came at a time when skills to administer and manage this new vaccine, were still limited.
“To prepare me for this assignment, I had to go through a four-day training, where I was taught how to administer the vaccine properly, how to allay people’s fears about the vaccines and how to ensure that vaccines are always kept at the right temperatures for them to remain effective,” says Saffinatu, who is currently administering vaccines to more than 50 people a day.
Through the generous support received from GAVI, USAID and other partners, UNICEF has supported the Government of Sierra Leone with the capacity building of more than 1, 500 health workers, who have received training as vaccinators. In addition, over 800 cold chain equipment have been procured and distributed to districts and health facilities across the country.
A cadre of 32 technicians and 32 supervisors have also been trained in effective cold chain and vaccine management for each of the four approved vaccines which are being administered in Sierra Leone. In addition, 900 data-entry clerks have received skills training on effective data entry management practices, while 1 385 social mobilisers have been trained in communication, interpersonal skills, misinformation and rumour management, and provided with updated key messages to help increase vaccine uptake through allaying fears and hesitancies about the vaccines. The commendable work of these dedicated vaccination teams has resulted in Sierra Leone reaching more than 3.5 million people with at least the first dose of vaccine as of November 2022.
“Vaccines save lives and history has shown us the critical importance of vaccines in the control and eradication of communicable diseases including smallpox and the reduction of cases of polio and measles. This lesson from history gives us the confidence that COVID-19 will be stopped when more people get vaccinated,” says UNICEF’s EPI Specialist, Baboucarr Boye.
Linking COVID-19 vaccination with other health services, has also helped in making the vaccine more accessible to people. For example, many of the people coming to Cline Town DHMT are people who need proof of specific vaccinations for travel purposes. Yebu Kalokah and her granddaughter Margaretta, who are scheduled to travel abroad, appreciate the convenience of getting the COVID-19 vaccine and then also the yellow fever vaccine at the same site.