UGANDA: Health ministry fears the worst as frontline staff shun COVID-19 Vaccine

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Scientists in Uganda are worried about the low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines among health workers; Courtesy Photo

Uganda’s Health Ministry is worried that infections and fatalities due to COVID-19 are likely to increase due to vaccine hesitancy in the population and more especially the frontline health workers.

More recent records from the ministry of health show that 84 percent of health workers have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 despite being the most prioritized group in the ongoing nationwide immunization campaign.

As of last week, only 24,093 health workers had gotten the vaccine following the nationwide vaccination rollout campaign which began in early March.

Initially, 150,000 health workers were supposed to be immunized in the first phase of immunization alongside other priority groups including security personnel and teachers. However, less than the targeted number of health workers have gotten the jab which according to scientists puts the country in gave danger amid fears of another COVID-19 wave.

Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu, the minister of health in charge of primary health care says vaccine hesitancy among health workers is going to leave communities scared of the vaccines. She was speaking during an engagement meeting with the leadership of health professionals on COVID-19 response held at Golf Hotel in Kampala.

“Health workers are trusted people in communities,” she said. “People follow them. How can you expect communities to warm up to the vaccine when health workers who need it most are not getting it? The low number of health workers vaccinated is a shame and needs to be addressed.”

Vaccine hesitancy in Uganda is not limited to health workers but also other priority groups. According to data from the health ministry, the highest number of vaccine uptake was recorded among security personnel at 80% with health workers lagging behind at 38%. Teachers, the elderly and even persons living with co-morbidities all have less than five percent of the targeted audience vaccinated.

The minister of health attributed the low numbers of people getting the COVID-19 jab to a lack of sensitization.

Dr Alfred Driwale, the programme manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunization says the uptake of the vaccine has been low among all groups mainly due to the negativity associated with the vaccines which they referred to as “infodemic” coupled with inadequate sensitization.

“The numbers show us that we need to go back to the ground and sensitize people about the vaccine, not just health workers but all the prioritized groups,” Dr Driwale said.

During the engagements, scientists allayed fears that with a second COVID-19 wave highly anticipated to hit the country in June and July this year, the number of infected health workers is likely to double or triple causing catastrophic consequences to the country. The scientists fear that the country may record more deaths among this group.

As of April 24, only 276,306 people had received the COVID-19 jab. With over 600,000 remaining vaccines that expire in the first week of July, some doctors say the government needs to adjust the strategy to integrate the COVID-19 vaccination programme on routine mode like all other vaccines. They proposed that the vaccination programme should be opened up for everyone willing to take the jab as opposed to the current strategy that prioritizes certain groups.

Dr Diana Atwine, the PS ministry of Health, noted that scientific predictions have already indicated that the months of June and July will be a difficult moment for Uganda if the status quo is maintained owing to the declining vigilance and the hesitancy in taking the vaccine.

Dr Diana emphasized that the health care priority is at risk and yet needs to be protected. She appealed to scientists to review the most recent information on the vaccines and speak with knowledge as well as desist from being negative influencers.

Diana decried the “projectization” of the COVID-19 vaccine where health workers demand for special allowance to undertake COVID-19 immunization programmes in communities which she said is irregular. She said the ministry has all facilities for the COVID-19 vaccine at almost all health centers.

“We want to see full integration of this proggramme like any other. If anyone comes to a nearest health facility for the vaccine, he or she should get it and go.” She said.

The World Health Organization country representative, Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam said for the first time this week, the world reached a new milestone of close to 6 million covid-19 infections and 90,000 deaths in just one week yet it took 6 months to record the same figures last year. He said, this is 150 times the genocide of Rwanda and tells what the magnitude of the crisis.

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