Nyakelei battles rumours attributed to COVID 19 vaccination
A woman chooses to confront misconceptions to protect herself and her family from COVID-19.
In Bor town in Jonglei State, Nyakelei Garang Kuei, a mother of three children, was leaving the state hospital with her vaccination card. She had just got her first jab of the COVID-19 vaccine. She is the first woman in her community to be vaccinated and challenging the rumours and misconceptions circulating about the COVID-19 vaccine – particularly around infertility in women.
It is estimated that over 215,000 people have been vaccinated in Jonglei State and more than 2 million countrywide since the vaccines became available in South Sudan in 2021.
The Global Access to COVID-19 Vaccines (COVAX) program, a partnership between UNICEF, WHO and Gavi, has been helping many African countries in their vaccination efforts since February 2021.
As COVID-19 vaccines have become more available, misinformation and rumours have also continued to spread. Unconfirmed claims linking COVID-19 vaccines to infertility continue circulating on mobile and social media. False messages have spread among youth, parents, men, and women of childbearing age in South Sudan. As a result, many women and men refuse the COVID-19 vaccination because of fear of infertility.
Nyakelei Garang did not believe the rumours. When she heard over the radio that COVID-19 Vaccines were available at Bor State Hospital, she was enthusiastic and ran to her husband to inform him so they both get vaccinated. However, when she broke the news, he was skeptical and upset about it.
Nyakelei remained steadfast.
Let’s get our COVID-19 vaccination, it is safe, and it is the only effective way to keep us protected from this disease.
as she had heard from messaging and outreach in her community. Her husband was still skeptical. “He said to me ‘don’t you know that this vaccine can cause infertility, or you don’t want to have more children?” she said.
In partnership with the Government of South Sudan, UNICEF and partners are working to bring accurate information about COVID-19 to the community. Trained Community Mobilisers are deployed in neighborhoods and communities around the country to deliver important and factual messages about COVID-19 and the vaccination. They have been providing information through regular radio talk shows, and radio messages of which Nyakelei has been a regular listener. Radio remains the most widely used form of media in South Sudan.
Social mobilizers link communities with life savings information and services.
Achol is a trained social mobilizer supported by UNICEF. Community mobilizers engage with people on a regular basis through household interactive sessions, door-to-door megaphone announcements in communities, church announcements, radio talk shows and participation in social gatherings. Achol, who lives and works in the same district as Nyakelei, was able to advise her so that she could make an informed choice.
I took a bold decision without support from my husband and walked to Bor State Hospital and got my first Jab of Astrazeneca vaccine.
When she got her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Nyakelei was not pregnant. Some days after, she started having doubts about her decision. But she found support from the community mobilizer. She was able to talk to her several times and express her fears. Achol continued to reassure Nyakelei until some reassuring news arrived.
In that Month of distress, I did not notice that I missed my ‘period’. I went and did a pregnancy test, and they confirmed that I was pregnant, I took my result and rushed back to break the news to my husband, in-laws, and relatives,”
Nyakelei, full of joy, went back home and looked for her husband first. Everyone around was wondering why she was so happy. When Mr. Garang opened the envelope, he asked with a look of surprise: ”you are pregnant; is it a joke?” As he went through the information on the paper, he was convinced she was pregnant because he knew the doctor who did the pregnancy test.
“I will not allow this primitive mentality in my community, especially among women with limited access to information about vaccinations. Now, I am a living example that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, that you can get vaccinated and still have a baby,” said Nyakelei.
Under the World Bank funded Essential Health Services Project, UNICEF with partners and the Ministry of Health is supporting the supply and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in the country and the provision of essential healthcare services to the most vulnerable populations in two of the most inaccessible areas: Jonglei and Upper Nile states.