By Brima Sannoh
As part of what is the largest COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Sierra Leone, the district of Pujehun has set a record with the administration of over 12,000 doses in three weeks.
The initiative, dubbed the “Accelerated Covid-19 Vaccination Campaign,” is being championed by the NGO FOCUS 1000, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and other local and international partners.
Launched on 25th September in the fishing community of Tombo in the Western Rural Area, the campaign is funded by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), in collaboration with Africa Epidemiology Network based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It’s part of an initiative of the African Union to increase uptake of Covid-19 vaccines in its member countries.
Africa has vaccinated only 2 percent of its population against Covid-19, according to the World Health organization. And experts say this low vaccination coverage exposes the region to emerging new variants of the virus.
Pujehun was given the task of vaccinating 5000 people during the course of the 30-day campaign, but data from FOCUS 1000 released on Friday via its weekly update shows that the southern district is among the top performing districts, having surpassed its target.
Pujehun follows closely behind its neighbor Bo District, which has had 13,232 jabs as of the same period. Despite training in second place, Pujehun stands out because of its characteristic difficult geographical terrain, which the volunteers have to maneuver to reach the people.
As per the agreement between FOCUS 1000 and Africa CDC, the NGO was expected to vaccinated at least 80, 000. But the data show that as 21st October, 126, 126 people from 18 years and above had been vaccinated nationwide.
Speaking during an orientation meeting for the rolling out of Pfizer vaccine in the country on Friday, October 22, Abass Nabieu Jah, District Coordinator of FOCUS 1000, said that the one-month exercise which started in Pujehun on September 27th was officially scheduled to come to an end on the 26th October.
Mr Jah is optimistic that based on “encouraging signals” from the field, more than 200,000 will have received the vaccine by the end of the campaign nationwide.
Jah lavishly applauded the District Health Management Team (DHMT) for its expertise, as well as the community mobilizers, whom he said were collectively the brain behind the “remarkable achievement.”
District Medical Officer for Pujehun, Dr. Steven Amara Ngegbai, told KMN that he was particularly impressed about the role social mobilization played in the campaign.
“What is more encouraging in this campaign period is the fact that the team has succeeded in broadening the mindset of people towards the vaccine, which is why there is now an increased willingness of people to come forward and get vaccinated,” he said.
“The Community Mobilizers have a great responsibility to help this district succeed in this campaign. So I entreat you all to make sure that you do your own part of the exercise so that the vaccinators will find it easier to have the numbers,” he added.
Dr. Ngegbai revealed that since the beginning of the campaign, there had been no report of severe reaction of the vaccine by either the team or the beneficiaries themselves.
The District Medical Officer sought to inspire the team to make Pujehun proud by ensuring that they reach out to everyone who has reached the age of 18 and above.
DMO Ngegbai described the Pujehun team as “small but mighty,” noting that they have once again justified why the district is known beyond its borders for always doing wonders in terms of managing public health emergencies.
He cited the 2014 outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease as another example of how collaboration between the DHMT and its partners helped in putting public health emergencies under control.
KMN spoke to some of the people who took the vaccines. Zackaria Fofanah from Yewi Feri Village, Kpanga Chiefdom, said the campaign helped free him from the hold of people who spread fake news.
“We were brainwashed by our friends and family members that if we took that vaccine we would get sick and would eventually die,” he said.
“After taking the vaccine, I realised that it was all fake news aimed at scaring people. I have already convinced my family members to get their own vaccine to prevent themselves against coronavirus,” he added.
Another beneficiary, Lucia Kein, a trader in Pujehun town said: “When I took the first dose of the vaccine in August this year, I experienced some skin rashes and I became afraid, especially when a lot of fake news was going round that after two years those who had taken the vaccine would die.”
Displaying her vaccination certificate, Madam Kein said after three days, all of the rashes disappeared and her skin became very smooth again as it was before.
“I am glad that I have completed the full dose of the vaccination and now I have nothing to worry about.I am going to encourage my children also to get vaccinated because this is the only way we can be protected against the virus,” she added.
Alhaji Bawoh, a member of the Kombra Network in Gardohun village, Upper Malen chiefdom, said before this time he lacked appetite and was even experiencing low libido.
“Now I can eat a lot and I am now very much active in bed. This, I believe, is a result of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine I took some weeks ago,” said a smiling Mr Bawoh.