By Grace Q. Bryant
With the total amount of 6,439 people have received second shot 96,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, Liberia is set to roll out another batch of 96,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX facility but this time beginning with health care workers.
This batch of vaccines is donated by the French Government through the COVAX Facility in collaboration with the European Union to help achieving the goal of equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally.
The arrival of the 96,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine marks the third batch of vaccine shipped to Liberia by the COVAX facility as part of its unprecedented efforts to deliver at least 2 billion doses of the vaccine globally by the end of 2021.
On July 25, 2021 Liberia has received another donation of 302,400 doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccines. The vaccine is a donation from the United States Government through the COVAX Facility in collaboration with the African Union and the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The rollout of the J&J immediately kicked out on August 5th attracting a huge turnout at various sites in Monrovia including the Paynesville City Hall where it was officially launched.
Though Liberia, like many other African counties, suffered setbacks in the fight against COVID-19 as thousands of its citizens initially doubted the existence of the virus and accused officials of plotting to extort money from foreign donors, the waves of deaths during the third variant attack, pushed many citizens to quickly and almost voluntarily adhere to the health protocols as laid out by the health authorities.
The increase in funds and supplies from foreign governments, philanthropists and international partners, caused many Liberians to suggest that COVID-19 presents new opportunities for corruption and misuse of public funds by public officials.
With the erosion of public trust and confidence in the Government of Liberia (GOL) due to prolonged lack of access to basic social services including healthcare, getting vaccinated continues to be an uphill battle. In fact, the increase in vaccine hesitancy can be attributed to the lack of information, especially in a country with a high illiteracy rate.
Throughout this round of the vaccination process, there is a serious awareness though communication and information flow to the public about the different vaccines and how they should be administered.
Public health officials have begun providing relevant information about the vaccination campaign to Liberians, though many Liberians in this high-illiteracy rate population have android phones which give them access to the internet, much is not placed on the internet even following the taking of the vaccine, many are still finding it difficult if not impossible to recover their vaccine cards as per government or the health teams’ instruction.
Earlier, during the outbreak of the virus, Joyce Kilikpo Executive Director Public Health Initiative (PHI) expressed that prior to the launch to the vaccine in Liberia, there was little or no involvement of civil society actors, media and the religious communities.
She continued by saying in this information age where many have access to the internet and believe any information from the internet without verifying its authenticity, there was not enough publicity on the vaccine and the Government of Liberia needed to do more. “The publicity needs to go beyond Public Service Announcement.
It took almost four weeks from the arrival in Monrovia of a shipment of 96,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab via the Covax vaccine sharing initiative before the first shot could go into an arm. This raised lots of concerns amongst Liberians but health authorities blamed the reasons for the delayed on widespread suspicion surrounding the vaccine, exacerbated by reports of blood clots amongst AstraZeneca recipients in several European countries.
“Right after we received the vaccine, the news came out about the clots,” Liberia’s health Minister, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, told reporters at the official launch of the vaccines. “So, we delayed to see the result of the investigation. “But even after the launch of the vaccines, concerns arose about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine, a vox-pop conducted amongst ordinary Liberians between April and May found that hesitancy and mistrust surrounding Covid with just one in ten respondents saying they would volunteer to be vaccinated.
However, with the low confidence in the government, and Liberians stating they didn’t trust the government to ensure the safety of the vaccine before offering it to citizens, the issue of social media parading with fake news added flame to the fire.
Some of the early perceptions and impressions of citizens regarding the vaccine were that it was dangerous as Marie Wleh said, “I’m worried about Covid but the vaccine is not correct,” as she mashed pepper into a silver bowl outside her family home on the out sketch of Paynesville.
“We’re hearing around town that poor people can die when they take it so I’m afraid to take this one,” agrees Mr. Samuel Moore a tailor and father of four, who says he knew of five people, including his sister-in-law, who died after taking part in an Ebola vaccine trial following the 2014-16 West African Ebola epidemic.
“People are sending videos from America saying they want to decrease the world’s population through the vaccine,” says 36-year-old hairdresser Tracy Gray, standing in the doorway of her one-room salon in Kakata, Margibi County. “I have seen five videos. I will not vaccinate myself or my family.”
Many believed that the government needs a robust media approach that would look at engaging both traditional and social media; strengthening the media and civil society organizations capacity, and engaging grassroots organizations as well as religious leaders to work at sensitizing their communities with the right information. The Government needs to establish a call center to address misinformation real time development information communication materials. .
Vaccination is the surest public health measure that will ensure we defeat COVID19. In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that “the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks” and recommended “that vaccinations continue”. Two weeks later, the GOL gave the green light for vaccination to begin In April. At that time, Liberia has seen just over 2,000 official cases of Covid and 85 deaths, making it is easy to understand why Liberia has found it hard to muster a lot of enthusiasm to raise awareness for people to take the Covid vaccine.
Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) raised Liberia’s travel alert to level 4 indicating that the country is highly unsafe for inbound travelers. The CDC has admonished U.S. citizens not to travel to Liberia and if they should, they must be vaccinated before coming.
On its website, the CDC admonished U.S. citizens and other travelers to avoid making a trip to Liberia or get fully vaccinated before travel “because of the current situation in Liberia, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants.
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against COVID-19 in partnership with FrontPage Africa.