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Vaccines, vaccinators and vaccinees: The 3 Vs to end COVID

Anuradha Gupta
By Anuradha Gupta

Deputy CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

Posted on Friday, 18 September 2020 12:06

vaccine ethiopia
Ethiopia’s government has recognised that the only way to improve immunisation rates among children in pastoralist communities is through routine outreach programmes. Thanks to awareness campaigns and the efforts of health extension workers recruited from their own communities, hostility towards vaccination has receded dramatically in Afar.

When will a COVID-19 vaccine be ready? It’s a question that has been repeatedly asked since the beginning of the pandemic.

And it’s not a surprising question given the recorded number of COVID-19 deaths will soon exceed one million with a substantial number having not even been reported.

Everyone’s life has been upended. The global economy is in a tailspin.

There is little disagreement that vaccines are the only solution to end the pandemic. But while scientific and vaccine manufacturing community make huge strides in the race towards that goal, it is important to remember that vaccines are only one of three Vs needed to beat this coronavirus.

READ MORE South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccine trial is paused, and that’s good news

Besides vaccines, we need vaccinators and vaccinees; people to administer them and people willing to receive them. And that will be far from straightforward.

New challenges everyday

The current crisis presents new challenges.

Healthcare workers and volunteer vaccinators may not be available due to lack of incentives and support. They may be infected with COVID-19 themselves or unable to work because they lack the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to stay safe.

READ MORE Coronavirus: 3D print of ventilators, easy and cheap to produce says lead researcher

Those that are available are working under enormous pressure and at great risk to themselves to try to keep health services like childhood immunisation running. Greater empathy towards health workforce coupled with recognition and rewards for their heroic efforts would boost their morale and equip them to take COVID-19 vaccines to people.

Trust in one’s government

Even under normal circumstances, mass vaccination campaigns are successful only if people trust the government to be fair, caring and acting in the best interest of the masses.

Failure to provide even the most basic services such as water, sanitation, fuel, schools, primary health care, roads and electricity, and policies to support people’s livelihoods, can severely undermine public trust.

READ MORE From counterfeit vaccines to antibiotics to antimalarials, Africa is tackling the danger of fake medicines

It can also provide a fertile ground for the spread of misinformation and false rumours about vaccine safety, making the task of delivering COVID-19 vaccines even more difficult – something that we are already seeing. Intentional investments in enhancing public confidence in the thoroughness, effectiveness and safety of vaccines are urgently needed.

Madelein Semo, a nurse-vaccinator, carries a coolbox stocked with vaccines to go and vaccinate in a community health centre in the Ngbaka neighbourhood of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on April 29, 2015.

New target groups for vaccines

Another challenge is that in most developing countries, immunisation services are set up to deliver vaccinations to children under two years of age.

COVID-19 vaccines would have a different target group – initially, health workers who are at the highest risk of exposure to the disease, as well older populations who are at high risk because of underlying health conditions.

This would mean identifying, cataloguing and reaching new target groups. Considering the ongoing challenges most lower-income countries face in even tracking child births and the target population for childhood immunisation, identifying the vaccinees for COVID-19 would be no easy task.

This will require immediate funding and technical support from the global community and an encouragement of nationally designed and innovative strategies.

Bottom line

Halting the pandemic is ultimately about saving the lives and livelihoods of people. And you simply can’t have the single biggest and most rapid global deployment of vaccines without people in place to support such an important vaccination campaign.


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