Like many other people in Siaya County, Western Kenya, Margaret Awino, a member of the Doho Ukwaka Magombe Masat Association (DUMMA) women’s group, was fearful of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine due to negative rumours circulating in the community.
“When the COVID-19 vaccination was introduced I heard people say it will kill older people. I was afraid. But I have now been well-informed and I have also seen that those who were vaccinated earlier did not die. I want to go for vaccination. And today I heard WHO say that when one is vaccinated and gets the disease, it will not be severe enough to cause death,” said Margaret.
Engaging local communities to support the COVID-19 response and accept the vaccine has been a core part of the Government of Kenya’s response to COVID-19. This is something that WHO, with support from a Canadian grant through the Universal Health Coverage Partnership (UHC Partnership), has been supporting strongly.
Working closely with County Health Management Teams, WHO provided technical support for advocacy, risk communication and social mobilization to improve vaccine uptake throughout communities across Kenya. Through liaising with political, administrative and community leaders, WHO set out to explain how the vaccines and other prevention measures, such as masks, work and how they protect people from the disease.
Achieving greater equity in COVID-19 vaccine coverage
The experience of responding to COVID-19 in both Kisumu and Siaya Counties has shown that creating the demand and providing a mix of vaccine delivery mechanisms to reach key priority groups, is an effective way to improve vaccine uptake and achieve greater equity in coverage. In Kisumu County, the County Health Management Team conducted COVID-19 vaccine community outreach drives in all 7 sub-counties for one week in May 2021, integrating it with the delivery of Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination targeting girls aged 10–12 years.
Using schools as vaccination sites meant that more teachers were reached with the COVID-19 vaccine, and more schoolgirls were reached with the HPV vaccine. Promoting an integrated systems approach means that services are more people-centred and able to respond to health needs, which supports strong progress towards universal health coverage.
The choice of location is also key. For example, in Kisumu County, static health facilities accounted for only 17% of doses administered, while the outreach delivery mechanisms, which used schools and community sites, accounted for 83%. This represented a 4.8 fold increase in demand and uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine as a result of the outreach programme. Uptake rose from 896 doses to 4,338 doses within the first outreach week.
Kenya is among the 115 countries and areas to which the UHC Partnership helps deliver WHO support and technical expertise in advancing UHC with a PHC approach. The Partnership is one of WHO’s largest initiatives on international cooperation for UHC and PHC. It is funded by the European Union (EU), the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Irish Aid, the Government of Japan, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the United Kingdom – Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Belgium, Canada and Germany.