Targeting Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy, Residents Want Robust Awareness in Rural Liberia

GBOATA, Bong County – Vaccine hesitancy is still one of the major problems hindering the administering of vaccines across the country. Despite efforts by non-governmental organizations and the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), most people are still afraid to be vaccinated.

Unlike the urban parts of the country where there is continued awareness, most of those who are hesitant over the safety of the vaccine are mostly seen in the rural parts of Liberia. However, as part of efforts to encourage people about the safety of the vaccine, the Liberia Women Forum (LWF), a local non-governmental organization aimed at protecting the rights of women, has extended its COVID-19 campaign sensitization to the rural parts of the country, targeting Grand Bassa, Bong, Margibi  and Nimba Counties.

The campaign kicked off in two of Liberia’s fifteen counties, where a team of foot-soldiers from the LWF began the campaign in Grand Bassa and Margibi Counties.

The sensitization and awareness campaign is meant to encourage pregnant women, baby mothers, old people, and the youth community to take the vaccine and that it is safe.

According to a statistic from the World Health Organization (WHO), as of July 2022, a total of 2,921,554 vaccine doses have been administered.

However, during the sensitization campaign, Miss Ghartey, head of the team encouraged residents of the towns in the targeted counties to take the vaccine and that it is safe. She informed the residents that covid-19 is still in the country; stating that it is one of the reasons why partners like the World health Organization (WHO) keeps supporting countries to eradicate the virus.

 “COVID-19 is still around the world and all of you know how people died during the Ebola crisis. That’s why the WHO and other partners have introduced the vaccine to help fight the virus,” she told a crowd of villagers in Gboata in Bong County.

She urged people in the villages to report any individual showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

Also speaking, the President of the Liberia Women Forum, Madam Kadi Porte stressed the need for continued awareness across in various counties; especially hard-to-reach areas despite the decrease in cases in Liberia and other parts of the World. Madam Porte revealed plans by her organization to continue reaching out in the counties to educate people about the vaccines and its safety.

“People in the rural areas are vulnerable to many diseases and we need to continue the campaign for those hard-to-reach communities in the counties to be properly educated and safe,” Kadi noted.

 She however stressed the need for more support in extending the awareness to every part of the country. She said “Once we are funded, we can move in more counties to educate our people, my team is moving in counties but cannot go into all of the counties because of the lack of funding.”

Like Madam Porte, Mary Nuahn wants more support directed towards awareness on the COVID-19 vaccine in the rural parts of the country. Madam Nuahn cited the lack of sufficient awareness about the safety of the vaccine as one of the reasons for the low intake of the vaccine in the rural parts of the country.

“I feel afraid to take the vaccine. People have been saying that after some times, people who have taken the vaccine will die for taking the vaccine. So, we think that the vaccine is not safe,” she said.

Madam Nuahn is one of several people who are hesitant to take the vaccine. To combat vaccine hesitancy, LWF has stressed the need for more awareness in every part of the country and not only the urban areas. “COVID do not separate or choose who to infect, every part of the world needs to be made aware about the safety of the vaccine that is meant to help in the fight against the disease.”

While the government of Liberia through the Ministry of Health is working on its awareness, more needs to be done equally in the rural parts of the country.

Tackling Vaccine Hesitancy

Vaccination is one of the most successful public health interventions. It has led to the elimination and control of diseases that were once common. 

According to global health statistics, the number vaccine-hesitant people and refusers are on the increase despite the outbreak of several diseases; and as such counseling these groups might be more effective.

Some practical tips for addressing vaccine hesitancy that have worked in several developed countries including Canada and Australia include starting early, presenting vaccination as the default approach, building trust, being honest about side effects, providing reassurance on a robust vaccine safety system, focusing on protection of the people and community, among others.

Back in Gboata, the LWF said it is determined to extend its sensitization campaign to every part of the country if funding is available.  The Team, headed by Ghartey said it has already covered several cities, towns and villages including Buchanan (Grand Bassa), Gboata, Kollila, SKT, Suakoko and Gbatalla (Bong), Kpain and Ganta (Nimba).

This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) through the Mobilizing Media against COVID-19, in partnership with the Female Journalist Association.

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