Vaccinating Liberia’s Vulnerable Communities Against COVID-19
Liberia has made headway with its COVID-19 vaccination having fully vaccinated 70% of the total eligible population since March 2021, when the vaccination programme kicked off. Robust coordination between the government and its partners, an effective COVID-19 steering committee and multiple mass vaccination campaigns have contributed to the country’s success.
Now the country is ensuring that its most vulnerable people are protected from severe illness, hospitalization and death from the virus. Efforts are underway to achieve high levels of vaccination among high-priority groups, including health workers, older adults over 60, people with co-morbidities and refugees and displaced people.
Preparations are underway for a COVID-19 vaccination day at the Bahn High Extension School in Bahn, Nimba Country, north-east Liberia. The school is situated just outside Bahn Refugee Camp, which is home to around 10 000 refugees who fled post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire more than a decade ago. The school, which offers education to both Liberian and refugee children, is one of the sites offering community- based COVID-19 vaccination.
“Our target is to make sure that more people in the community get vaccinated. That way we will all be safe,” says Oretha Vanwen, a community health worker who administers COVID-19 vaccines to refugees and the host community alike.
In line to register for COVID-19 vaccination is Bernard Manhan, a 57-year-old father of eight who resides in Bahn refugee camp. Along with his wife and children, he fled to Liberia in 2011.
Manhan was a member of an opposition party during Côte d’Ivoire’s parliamentary elections in 2011. In the violence that followed the elections he lost most of his family members. “I was being hunted by rebels,” he says, recounting a treacherous experience fleeing to neighbouring Liberia for safety. “I still fear for my life. This is the reason I have not made any efforts to go back home,” he says resolutely.
Coming to Liberia was a great relief for Manhan and his family as they now have access to essential health services, including COVID-19 vaccination.Partners such as the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) is supporting efforts by World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that people like Manhan are not left behind in the country’s efforts to protect vulnerable populations from severe impacts of the virus.
“When I heard of the COVID-19 vaccination I was not convinced that it was safe and feared becoming impotent, as those were the rumours circulating,” he says. “However, my wife went ahead to get her jab, and nothing changed. She has remained very healthy. I then decided to get vaccinated, and I am happy I did,” he says, proudly displaying his COVID-19 certificate.
A fellow Ivorian refugee, Dekonti Elisabeth Gbe, was also unsure about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine, which led her to be hesitant about getting a jab. “Being a single mother, I feared for the worst,” she says. “What if I get sick and die because of the vaccine? What will happen to my children?” she says, as she recalls her earlier thoughts about the vaccine.
But after seeing many people at Bahn refugee camp being vaccinated and not suffering any negative consequences, Gbe has decided to go ahead with the vaccine. “People who have taken the vaccine are well and healthy, including pregnant women. I am very convinced that the vaccines are safe,” she says confidently.
Nimba is one of the six counties that WHO is supporting to help accelerate COVID-19 vaccination. “WHO recognizes the strong collaboration and partnership with ECHO that has contributed to increasing vaccine uptake. The critical role of Nimba’s local authorities, as well as ownership of the process by the communities, was instrumental in ensuring communities in Nimba are protected against COVID-19,” says Dr Peter Clement, WHO Representative in Liberia. “If we continue in this manner, Liberia will make even greater strides in its efforts to protect the people who call it home.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of WHO Regional Office for Africa.