A dash of hope with a poke in the arm

Over 1000 people vaccinated for COVID-19 in Jonglei State

Lisa Lynn Hill and Dau Deng Abuoi
COVID-19 Vaccines arrive at the Bor airstrip in Jonglei State.
24 June 2021

“This is a great and exciting moment for the people of Bor. The COVID-19 vaccine is here, it’s safe, free and the most efficient way of protecting yourself against the disease.” Hon. Atong Kuol, from the Ministry of Health, exclaims as she receives the COVAX supplied vaccines and turns to the national television with cheerful eyes. “A real partner is the one like UNICEF, who stood with Jonglei people even when things are getting tougher every single day, bringing us hope. Thanks for their commitment to making vaccine access equal for people of Jonglei State.” Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies and make it stronger, just as it does when you are exposed to a disease. It uses your body’s natural defenses to build resistance. Hon. Atong urges all health care workers to come to the COVID-19 vaccination campaign to get the lifesaving jab.

“Where are we going to keep the vaccines? Our storage has been flooded since last year?” Hon. Atong ’s looked tense as the vaccines are time-sensitive. Abe Charles, Officer In-charge of UNICEF Bor, assures her that “COVID-19 vaccines will be kept in the UNICEF compound in the State’s equipment that’s known as ‘Cold Chain.’ This includes refrigerators, cold boxes, vaccine carriers and eighteen freezers.” With relief, she said, “UNICEF always stands with South Sudan, in bad times and good times; especially, with the vulnerable groups such as children, young people and women.”

“Let’s take these vaccines to the refrigerators,” Abe says as the team uploads the vaccines and drives from the airstrip to the UNICEF compound 5 km away.

Hon. Atong checks the freezer where COVAX vaccines will be stored.
Hon. Atong checks the freezer where COVAX vaccines will be stored.

Hon. Atong announces, “keeping these vaccines at the UNICEF facility can help change people’s perception of the safety and am certain that people will turn up for COVID-19 vaccinations because South Sudanese have a long trusting relationship with UNICEF. I encourage everyone to go to Bor State Hospital and take their first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine, particularly our frontline health workers because they are at high risk. Vaccinating health workers will help in protecting not only them but also their patients, families, and communities.”

Jonglei people wouldn’t have access to these vaccines without the help of UNICEF and its partners. It is expensive to move and store them due to the need for the vaccine to be kept cold. Since the Civil War in 2013, Jonglei State has been struggling with poor healthcare access and infrastructure, further deteriorated by COVID-19 closures.

After some questions, Hon. Atong assures everyone that this vaccine doesn’t cause infertility and it is not related to any evil. There are many myths and stories of fake news being spread around. “Check everything you hear,” Abe warns.

In Jonglei, UNICEF supplied Pibor and Pochalla with 2,600 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Bor South received 1,600 doses of which over 500 people were vaccinated on the first day of the campaign. They agreed to return for the second jab in 4-12 weeks as suggested.

After inspecting the cold chain boxes, Hon. Atong thanks the UNICEF team and turns around to tell all the partners that “it is our sole responsibility to make sure that people of Jonglei are well informed and turn out in big numbers for COVID-19 vaccinations so we stop the spread of this disease among our population. It is all of our responsibility to ensure everyone is protected from dangerous diseases.”

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, UNICEF is facilitating the COVID-19 vaccination operations in Jonglei and the Upper Nile States through its implementing partners delivering Primary Health Care services in partnership with the World Bank. Thanks for support from COVAX and GAVI. UNICEF has also contributed financially to the roll-out thanks to thematic funds made available from the global budgets.