By Aramata Jatta
The fear of vaccination among Gambians has been very visible when the COVID-19 vaccine was recently introduced and thus affecting the routine immunisation exercise in the country.
It all began when false rumour was emerging from the social media platforms regarding the vaccines. This rumour has kept mothers from taking their children aged 0-5 years for their monthly immunisations exercises. The pregnant women also abstained themselves from going for the routine antenatal care services all due to the fear of taking vaccines.
“Covid-19 has brought us nothing but frustrations and sufferings. Since The Gambia discovered the virus, we find it difficult to access immunisation for our children. The nurses were not coming for months, while we the lactating mothers waste time and resources going to our health facilities,” Amie Mbaye, a resident of Churchill’s Town told The Daily News.
“I stopped going for antenatal care services because of the fear of being vaccinated and I don’t want to be vaccinated, as you can see, I’m pregnant. I have been told that the covid-19 vaccine causes miscarriage and infertility and who so ever take the vaccine will die within 2 years,” Pregnant Woman (name withheld) told this reporter.
“I didn’t take my child vaccination because I don’t want to risk our lives. Going for services will expose me and my child to covid-19 and we will end up infecting the whole compound.”
The Bundung Maternal and Child Hospital is not safe at all, and above all, I do not want to be vaccinated. My children are young, I don’t want to die now,” Jainaba Minteh, a mother of three, said.
Bundung Maternal and Child Hospital is one of the busiest health facilities in The Gambia and it’s also among the health facilities that registered numerous cases of Covid-19. This has affected their routine immunization services
“At the beginning, when we started registering new cases of COVID-19, most people stopped coming to the facility due to fear of contracting the COVID virus, which has brought our coverage down,” Musa B. Darboe, a public health officer at the maternity and child health hospital.
“Soon after realizing that, we intervened by strengthening our health education and promotion services; this was followed with what we called defaulted tracing.”
“The nurses check the database system and check on the mothers who have missed out on their services, and then we would engage them at the community level for the services,” Darboe continued.
He allayed the fear of mothers that vaccines are here to prevent children from preventable diseases, not to cause harm to them as many are thinking. “If these vaccines were given for other purposes, we would have seen the negative impact since 1979” Darboe assured.
Immunisation is administered through the Primary Health Care system and through a system called Reproductive and Child Health. It is a package; the health workers go to the clinics and vaccinate children that are due for immunisations. At the same time monitor their growth rate and nutritional status and also see both new mothers post-natal services and pregnant women for antenatal care.
Musa Camara is among the team responsible for vaccine administration and coordination of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation and he is also responsible for vaccine preventable disease surveillance at the Ministry of Health.
He told The Daily News that Covid-19 has greatly affected the immunization service. “When covid-19 struck, there was lots of confusion, so health workers decided that the immunisation services had to stop. This was the cause of cancellation of a lot of immunization exercises at the initial stage.”
“In response to this, the National Immunisation Programme convened a stakeholder meeting to address the situation because we were prepared when covid-19 started around the world.”
‘‘We later came up, suggesting another guideline for children to come on bookings to reduce the unnecessary contact and we also asked the health facilities to reduce the times of exposure for all children to be vaccinated anytime they come to the health facilities,” Camara explained.
Among the major problems leading to those poor turnouts was due to the fact that some women delivered at certain hospitals and they got infected with the virus. Some of this information spread; somehow, the population also thought that health care facilities were hotspots for Covid-19 infections, forgetting that it is the people that bring the infections and not the health care workers.
Some facilities like Fajikunda were closed down because of communication breakdown; there were no immediate plans to save those immunisation centres (clinics).
”We continued our community engagement as a programme to engage mothers; and we also had what we called “periodic intensification of the immunization exercise”.
“With support from WHO and GAVI, the programme sends health workers to go to the communities to try to find out people that missed-out their immunisation doses. The programme gives them supplements for warming and vitamins to strengthen their body system,” Mr. Camera revealed.
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 Mai-Media and The Daily News