Voinjama City, Lofa County — Health authorities in Lofa County are designing a risk communication strategy to facilitate its localized roll-out of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccines across the county.
Report By Arthur Kowah, firstname.lastname@example.org | Inspires Health Reporting Fellow
Liberia’s Ministry of Health recently had a national launch of over 300,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines in Monrovia on August 5, 2021. The vaccines were donated by the United States Government through the COVAX facility — a partnership of CEPI, GAVI, UNICEF and WHO to expand the COVID-19 vaccination coverage globally.
According to the County Health Promotion Focal Person of the Lofa County Health Team, the county received a total of 24,805 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 and will shortly begin administering them to the public after when a strategy is finalized.
“We should have launched it last week Friday, but we had some constrains and we are also concluding the development of our risk communication strategy,” William Sherman said.
Mr. Sherman said the strategy will entail radio awareness, drama production, house-to-house mobilization, advocacy meetings and coordination with sectors, among other things. These activities are geared toward enhancing effective vaccines drive and behavior change in the county.
The County health promotion focal person of Lofa county health team said, unlike the AstraZeneca vaccines which prioritized health workers before later being administered to the public, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines will be available to the public.
“For this [Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccines], it will be opened to everybody. It’s not going to be like the AstraZeneca that we give priority to health workers”, he said while expressing optimism about increased vaccines intake in the county.
“I’m very hopeful that we will have a bigger turn-out for the vaccines if and only if we do the risk communication strategy well; maybe a week or more before the implementation, we will be able to get a larger population coming for the vaccines”, he said.
Meanwhile, some people have expressed their willingness to take the vaccines. They are aware that getting vaccinated boosts a person’s immunity against COVID-19.
Aruna Tamba, a local petro dealer in the county, said his willingness to take the vaccine is because of awareness messages he has being hearing about the safety of the vaccine.
“Even when the first ones [AstraZeneca] came, I went there but they said it was finished. So I will go for this new one [Johnsons & Johnson]. I heard from the health minister on radio, and even the health people in the county here saying we should take the vaccines to protect ourselves. I think the vaccine is safe, so I will take it,” he said.
For Momo Sheriff, an employee of the Ministry of Commerce in the county, his initial fears about the vaccines have been greatly allayed.
“I have been thinking. I didn’t take the first one [AstraZeneca]. But I will take the new one [Johnson & Johnson]. I have been hearing lots of awareness messages of hope from the health ministry and I see other people are taking it and nothing is happening; so, I will take it”, Momo said.
For her part, Madam Alberta Kessellie, a member of a local church congregation in the county, is ready to take the vaccine.
Madam Kessellie said although she had initial fear due to speculations, seeing her pastor and his wife take the vaccine and reported no serious side effect boosted her confidence in the vaccine safety.
“You know, if you mind some of the things you hear around about the vaccines, you will be scared to take it,” she said. “Even my pastor and his wife recently took it and I’ve seen other people taking it too; so, I will take it this time and pray”.
Despite the people growing interest in getting inoculated, some are hesitant that the vaccine is safe. This is mainly because of misinformation tailored by anti-vaccine campaigners. This is dissuading from getting the jab.
Edwin H. Dawolo, a teacher at the Voinjama Free Pentecostal High School, is one of these. He says that he will need “additional clarity from the health authorities before deciding to take the vaccine”. Edwin’s vaccine hesitancy is fueled by two vaccine misinformation videos he watched on social media.
“As of now I will say no [I can’t take the vaccines] because of the speculations around it; all. I came saw a video on facebook before the arrival of these vaccines that said the vaccines were made to eliminate black people,” he said. “I also saw another one in with a guy said all those who will take the vaccine will live for only two years”.
However, he promised to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccines once he gets clarity from health authorities.
“I have been researching to find out if these videos are true. But if I get clear information from the health authorities, of course I will take the vaccine. All I need is clarity. We want to live healthy and we know that this sickness is global thing. So whatever thing people will do to make sure that this virus is gone, I think I will be willing to join that,” he said.
“You know, if you mind some of the things you hear around about the vaccines, you will be scared to take it,” she said. “Even my pastor and his wife recently took it and I’ve seen other people taking it too; so, I will take it this time and pray”. – Madam Alberta Kessellie, a member of a local church in Lofa County.
Recent COVID-19 data released by the National Public Health Institute of Liberia shows that Lofa County has the third highest number of COVID-19 infections in the country after Margibi and Montserrado Counties. This supports public health experts call for more people to be vaccinated in these counties.
More than 3,850 persons have taken the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Lofa County. This accounts for fewer than five percent of the total number of people who have taken their first dose of AstraZeneca in the country.
The arrival of an additional 1,000 doses of AstraZeneca to the county, according to county’s health promotion focal person, paves the way for those who took their first dose to take their second. This leaves a gap of more than 1,850 persons who will have to wait to get fully vaccinated.
But Sherman assured that the health team is “working with the ministry of health to make sure additional vaccines come”.