With improved supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, Sierra Leone has commenced intensified vaccination exercise to bolster protection among its eligible population against the disease.
In March 2021, the COVID-19 vaccination was launched by President Julius Maada Bio who received the first shot alongside other prominent senior citizens, government officials and partners as a high-level advocacy that aimed to garner public support for that component of the pandemic response. However, vaccination sites have largely been limited to the urban communities including the district headquarter towns.
This time, beginning 23 August, health authorities and the National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre, deployed approximately 600 mobile and static teams of frontline personnel - health workers, community mobilizers and data clerks - to administer the vaccines in towns and villages throughout the country. The 10 days surge exercise aims to reach 18 years and older.
Sierra Leone’s revised COVID-19 response plan aims to reach 20% of the 4.2 million eligible population with the vaccine by the end of 2021. Before this surge vaccination exercise which started on 23 August, only about 165,000 and 35,000 persons had received their first and second doses respectively. This low coverage is set to improve significantly by the end of the 10 days intensified outreach and vaccination.
“Taking the COIVD-19 vaccination closer to the people in the communities at this critical moment is very impressive. The exercise is an opportunity to expand access for so many people to receive these lifesaving commodities, thus improving equity in the vaccination process”, said Dr Steven V. Shongwe, the World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative in Sierra Leone. “In addition to these vaccines. it is still highly recommended that the other public health measures - correct use of facemask, frequent hand washing and avoiding crowded areas or maintaining physical distance - are adhered to at all time even after receiving the shots”.
Early this month, the country received consignments of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine (96,000 doses) donated by the COVAX Facility partnership, and SinoPharm COVID-19 vaccine (200,000) through bilateral arrangement between the Sierra Leone and Chinese governments. Health authorities are using the opportunity to deliver the available doses of the two vaccines (AstraZeneca and SinoPharm) in the country’s stockpile to ensure more people are mobilized and vaccinated against the disease during this massive exercise.
“At the end of this intervention, at least one vaccination team would be maintained in every chiefdom and in all districts across the country”, said Dr Thompson Igbu, immunization expert at the WHO Country Office in Sierra Leone. “This new arrangement of static teams in the 190 chiefdoms would help to safeguard the population from adverse consequences of the virus and begin reducing barriers to COVID-19 services and information and would also help curb future upsurge of the virus in the communities”.
The national authorities and partners are making concerted engagements to accelerate availability of more vaccines in the country. Already, additional vaccines, including AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Pfizer BioNtech and Johnson & Johnson are expected to arrive in the country in the coming weeks and months through multilateral and bilateral partnerships between the Government of Sierra Leone and its partners. When delivered, these additional vaccines would help to significantly improve the country’s COVID-19 vaccination coverage.
“I have received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and I am going to mobilise other adult members of my family to also get their shots. It is important that other families also get vaccinated to maximize the protection in our communities”, said Moses Kailie, a beneficiary in Njama Community, Kowa Chiefdom in Moyamba District.
Cumulatively, 6,358 persons have tested positive for COVID-19 infection in Sierra Leone, with 121 deaths directly attributed to the disease. Until third week August, the country grappled with an increase in cases or the third wave of the pandemic. Huge efforts and resources have been invested by the government and partners to mobilize communities for the surge vaccination and to promote the safety, efficacy and uptake of the vaccines.
The world Health Organization is supporting the national authorities to respond to the pandemic by mobilizing partners and resources, and by providing strategic technical expertise required for the response. The Organization has further helped strengthen key components of the response including laboratory, surveillance, data and information, training, logistics and supplies as well as demand creation through the financial support of its donors.