Abuja, 15 April, 2021 – “I received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine because I was opportune to get the right information to make a sound decision. I got the right information from the social mobilization and community campaign conducted by the Cross River State Primary Health Care Development Agency and the World Health Organization”, says Emmanuel Nthor, a lecturer at the College of Health Technology, Calabar, Cross River State.
Mr Nthor said,” I was excited when the team from government and WHO came around to address my concerns. Making the right decision to receive the vaccine had been hazy due to misinformation, rumors and scare about the makeup and effectiveness of the vaccine in the public. We don’t know what to believe and not to, especially on the safety of the vaccine.
“But now I know better, and have made a best choice, he added.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, health experts, community leaders and influencers have been sensitizing Nigerians on best practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19, including handwashing, physical distancing ad mask wearing. Now, with the access to vaccines rapidly expanding, Cross River State Primary Health Care Development Agency (CRSPHCDA) and WHO launched a follow-up campaign to provide information about the safety of the vaccine.
On 02 March 2021, Nigeria received nearly 4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and subsequently distributed to States. Cross River State took delivery of 53,840 doses Oxford/AstraZeneca via the COVAX Facility. COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), working in partnership with UNICEF, the World Bank, civil society organizations, manufacturers, and others. COVAX is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
Already, the state had begun the vaccination drive and have been recording an impressive turnout among health workers, frontline workers and strategic leaders who had been presenting themselves for vaccination. As at 12 April 2021, over 27,000 health and front-line workers have been vaccinated in the State.
Addressing vaccine hesitancy
Cross River state was one of a few states in Nigeria that lagged in adapting the National Covid-19 response plan. Presently, there are still mixed feeling of both relieve for the vaccine intervention as well as doubts and hesitancy, related to the timeframe of development and efficacy of the vaccine, its safety, and socio-cultural acceptability issues. This was also seen even amongst health workers.
To address vaccine hesitancy in Cross River, the state government with support from WHO embarked on effective social mobilization and community engagements across the state to educate the people about vaccine safety and efficacy.
At one of the sensitization meeting, Mrs. Chisom Emeka, WHO Cross River acting State Coordinator highlighted that vaccines are a critical new tool in the battle against COVID-19; therefore, a step in the right direction. According to her, these vaccines have undergone rigorous regulatory processes at global and country level, and have been deemed safe and effective.
Some of the institutions engaged included the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, General Hospital Calabar, NNRH, Nigeria Navy Command, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Police, Department of Security Service, NIS, Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Nigerian Port Authority, Fire Service, Nigerian Prison Services, Export Processing Zone, College of Midwifery, College of Nursing, College of Health Technology, Civil Service Commission, Christian Association of Nigeria, and Obong of Calabar, whose influence also mobilized the population among others.
Also, various professional groups were engaged, including the Nigerian Medical Association, Medical Advisory Committee, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria, National Association of Community Health Practitioners of were not left out in the sensitization activities as they played huge roles in mobilizing healthcare workers.
As at 12 April 2021, a total of 385 COVID19 cases and 18 deaths among confirmed cases had been reported in Cross River State. To ensure a successful roll out of COVID19 vaccines in the state, CRSPHCDA led by the DG, Dr. Janet Ekpenyong and WHO prioritized engagement of targeted eligible persons (Health Care Workers, frontline workers and strategic leaders) for phase 1, providing them with the right information for informed decision.
WHO continued to provide technical support to the GoN in addressing misinformation and use of data for decision making as preparations are underway for the subsequent phases of the vaccine roll out.
Dr Jean Baptiste, Anne Eudes. Email: jeana [at] who.int; Tel: +234 813 173 628
Dr Terna Nomhwange Email: nomhwanget [at] who.int; Tel +234 813 173 6264