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Uganda: Twaweza Holds Public Discourse On Covid-19 Vaccination As Second Wave Bites

The talks come at a time when the second Covid-19 wave is ravaging the country unabated.  Health officials have reported the cumulative number of deaths at  1,873 by Friday. 

Twaweza in partnership with the Ministry of Health in Uganda held the second public discourse on Covid-19, this time focusing on rumors and misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine and vaccination programs in the East African country.

The talks come at a time when the second Covid-19 wave is ravaging the country unabated.  Health officials have reported the cumulative number of deaths at  1,873 by Friday.

About 300 people took part in the conversation titled; Covid-19 Vaccination? Myths, Misinformation, and Facts via video-conferencing. The event was also streamed live by the Media Challenge Initiative (MCI), a youth-driven non-profit which offers a platform for media innovation in Uganda.

Twaweza, a non-profit organization with the goal of fostering socio-economic transformation and development through dialogue across East Africa assembled a team of experts who provided relevant detail on the pandemic through a panel discussion.

The panel featured Dr. Annet Kisakye, Technical Officer Covid-19 Vaccination, Ministry of Health Uganda, Dr. Phiona Atuhebwe, the Vaccination Introduction Officer for Africa at World Health Organization, Dr. Sabrina Kitaaka, Paediatrician, pediatric infectious diseases specialist and academic at Makerere University School of Medicine, and Dr. Alfred Driwale, Assistant Commissioner and Program Manager Uganda Expanded Program on Immunization.

Experts shed light on vaccine development and vaccination program in Uganda, how the vaccines work, and the dos and don’ts of vaccination, among other issues and concerns as raised by participants in the question-and-answer structured talks.

During the event, Twaweza released a study conducted among residents of Kampala about the Covid-19 vaccine and vaccination programs. The study, according to Twaweza was conducted to assess the knowledge, perceptions, and actions around the virus in June.

Statistics showed that 96% of residents of Kampala are aware that vaccinations for Covid-19 exist, and 7 out of 10 are willing to be vaccinated. Women, business owners, and older Kampala residents are more willing to be vaccinated whereas those who earn their income from agriculture are less willing.

Among those who are unwilling, the main issues are around trust: 19% of Kampala residents do not trust any Covid-19 vaccine, 12% say they are not yet proven to be effective and 10% say they are not safe. Also, 4 out of 10 say the government should do more to raise awareness of the benefits of vaccination (37%), while 2 out of 10 (17%) say the distance to vaccination points need to be reduced and 1 out of 10 (11%) say the country needs to import more vaccines.

The study also showed that Kampala residents are divided on whether the government is doing well overall at securing vaccines for citizens: 2 out of 10 (22%) say they are doing (very) well while 3 out of 10 (27%) say they are doing (very) badly. A much larger proportion think the government is doing ok at securing vaccinations (44%).

At the same time, residents of Kampala seem to be more positive about international efforts to ensure poor countries get access to vaccines: 3 out of 10 (34% say they are doing (very) well while 1 out of 10 (13%) say they are doing (very) badly. But most Kampala residents are uninformed about the work of the international community in this area (52%).

From this background, Dr. Atuhebwe gave a detailed account of the role of WHO in vaccine distribution across the continent and provided statistical data on how far the Uganda has gone in its vaccination efforts.

In her overall submission, Dr. Atuhebwe indicated that the world is in a rush for vaccination. Developed countries are also yet to cover to their targeted population, she revealed. She thus shared that Uganda has covered only 0.5% of the population and efforts through the global vaccine alliance Covax are ongoing to ensure that the entire target population is covered.

“The world health Organization has worked closely with other organizations including Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization (GAVI), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to put together the Covax facility whose mandate was to ensure that there is equity in vaccine availability more so to poorer nations,” she said, adding that “our job majorly is policy and to ensure that there is equitable supply”.

On his part, Dr. Driwale provided a detailed account of vaccine development and vaccine program in Uganda, underscoring the types of developed vaccines so far worldwide, and the mechanisms Uganda has in place to ensure that the targeted population is covered.

He told participants that Uganda has established vaccination centers throughout the country throughout all districts, further debunking the rumor that the vaccination program has only been earmarked for Kampala.

The biggest challenge the country is facing is that the supply is short of the demand. Uganda is therefore focusing on vaccinating healthcare workers because of their close contact with Covid-19 patients, people with core morbidities, and senior citizens due to their vulnerability.

Unfortunately, misinformation and infodemic are fast threatening the public trust of the vaccine, Dr. Driwale decried, adding that merchants of fake news are undermining efforts by different stakeholders to make the vaccine available to the population as people are falsely being cautioned against the vaccine.

The rumor that people have died after receiving the vaccine sat at the core of Dr. Driwale’s presentation, in which he emphasized that much as the observation that some people have died after taking the COVID19 vaccine is right, the assertion that they died because of the vaccine is largely wrong.

“With the fake information, the public has, we see and feel the attitude of resistance. Resistance got from information on social media from people they do not know,” he said.

On her part, Dr. Kitaka said vaccination is still the ideal formula against the Coronavirus, and “if Ugandans keep saying they don’t trust vaccines, then we are going to be in a full lockdown for a long time.”

Dr. Kitaka said the Ugandans need to go to designated vaccination centers as listed in the inventory of the Ministry of Health. She warned against people getting vaccinated in undocumented spaces.

On her part, Kisaakye emphasized the need to go to the designated vaccination service points. She said the government has trained health workers to offer this service to the population and these must be the go-to persons in case any challenges arise.

Much as the vaccination is still thought of as the magic bullet in the fight against Covid-19, vaccinated people still have to adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). According to Dr. Kisaakye, Uganda has yet to sufficiently cover the target vaccination population. This means that the entire population is still at risk. She further added that Covid-19 is also still a new disease, which possesses newer challenges every passing day. The world is still assessing the reaction of the vaccine on the virus, she said.

However, the good news is that the vaccine has an effect on the new strains that are coming up, she said.