Why I'm getting vaccinated against COVID-19
Rolling out the COVID-19 vaccination in South Sudan one jab at the time
Juba, South Sudan - It has been days and sometimes weeks between seeing social media posts with people making a "V" with their fingers to show that they're vaccinated. Multiple rumours about the vaccine, compounded by the reports from Europe and the US about a rare side effect of some vaccines, caused fear. It could be hours between each person getting vaccinated at the designated sites in the capital city of Juba. Luckily, the trend seems to have changed.
36-year-old Mary Biong is pressing a disinfected piece of cotton to her upper arm where the jab was placed. She has just received the first of two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine. The first shipment of the vaccine, facilitated through COVAX, arrived in South Sudan in March 2021 and Mary admits it took her a while before she felt comfortable with taking the shot.
“I feared taking this vaccine because I know my body's immune system is strong. I thought that when I take it, it will reduce my immunity temporarily. I thought it would weaken me,” she says smiling.
“But what I see is that it will be a requirement for travelling. I have my children in East Africa and I need to be able to visit them,” she adds. “For now it has no side effects. It’s just like any other vaccine in East Africa. If it was bad, the foreigners would not have come for the vaccine here in South Sudan." She finishes her thought by encouraging people to get vaccinated because it makes the world safer.
Mandella Oliver (30) admits he has also been sceptical about the vaccine. The rumours were many, for example, that the vaccine would kill you and he didn't want to take a chance on that. He changed his mind after attending a workshop with the South Sudan Council of Churches where he felt he received good and credible information.
"The workshop gave me the confidence to take my vaccine. Another important point is that the vaccine is free, for now. Who knows what is happening tomorrow. If I take it now, I get protected for free."
"What are the false rumours about the vaccine?"
"People think the vaccines we are offered have expired, which is not true. Another rumour is that the vaccine causes infertility, which is not true either," he adds.
Nowadays, people are queuing up in the hallway at Juba Teaching Hospital to take the vaccine. This was a rather unusual sight compared to when the vaccination started in April 2021. Every person is registered properly and the vaccination card is completed before they can head to the vaccination station where the jab is given. After the shot is given, each person needs to sit down and wait for 30 minutes as a precaution in case of any immediate side effects. This is a normal practice also with other vaccines.
Margret Akech Angelo (27) has observed the change. She works in the reception at Juba Teaching Hospital and is in charge of disinfecting tables and chairs to reduce risk of transmission in case someone is sick. Some people don't display any symptoms when infected with COVID-19; hence, it is important to clean the place thoroughly.
"People used to believe in the rumours about the vaccine causing infertility and leaving people childless, but now they are turning up," she says. She believes having role models has been important. "When they see foreigners coming for the vaccine and their friends who have already received the jab without any bad side-effects, then they believe and they come to get vaccinated."
"We can now vaccinate more than 200 per day," she finishes.
Also, Andrew Taban (51) has come for his first COVID-19 vaccine today. The COVID-19 vaccine was only available in the capital of Juba until this past week. Now, the COVAX vaccination program is being expanded across the country.
Mandella is glad he finally decided to take the vaccine. "This vaccine is just like other vaccines such as for polio or yellow fever. People used to refuse them in the past as well but are now accepting them because they have seen the benefits. Prevention is better than cure,” he concludes.
The Ministry of Health has been leading the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination in South Sudan. UNICEF has been supporting the efforts by doing awareness-raising and social mobilization. UNICEF has also contributed financially to the roll-out thanks to thematic funds made available from the global budgets. COVAX facilitated the procurement and delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines to South Sudan.