Tackling the COVID-19 vaccine fear and hesitancy

BY: By Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

Evidently, the word ‘vaccination’ and its derivatives have taken centre stage in the COVID-19 war, given the relentless controversy over vaccination in many countries, including Ghana.

Therefore, little wonder that earlier this week the BBC reported that “vax has been chosen as the word of the year by lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

“Words related to vaccines have spiked in frequency in 2021 due to Covid, with double-vaxxed, unvaxxed and anti-vaxxer all seeing a surge in use.

“Vax and vaxx are both accepted spellings but the form with one x is more common.”

Relating the OED ‘Word of the Year’ decision to the vaccination experience in Ghana, despite the initial reported hostility to vaccination in some quarters, the enthusiastic response to the Phase One had led to thinking that the opposition was declining.

But apparently that is not quite the case, as indicated by the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye in an interview granted the Daily Graphic.

Anyhow, for another reason, I was elated when earlier this week I saw the interview headline in the Graphic, “Go for your COVID-19 jabs, Health Service urges”.

At last, I said to myself, I’m going to get the information that some of us have been looking for, so I eagerly read the news report under the headline.

In fact, I read the article a number of times, carefully, so as not to miss the critical details I was looking for.

And what was I searching for so diligently?

I was looking for information about: (a) the dates of the next vaccination in my area and (b) the list of the vaccination centres.

However, no matter how many times I read the report, in the Graphic of Tuesday, November 2, what I was seeking didn’t emerge, despite that promising headline.

Strangely, frustratingly, that vital information was missing from that very important communication!
Nevertheless, I found the interview with Dr Kuma-Aboagye, commendably comprehensive.

It was a useful update on the pandemic situation.

The following is an abridged version of the article:

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Dr Kuma-Aboagye, has made a passionate appeal to the public to disregard all myths and misconceptions around COVID-19 vaccines.

He assured the public that vaccination had been proved to be the most effective way of breaking the transmission of pandemics.
“Vaccination is the most effective way to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 vaccines prevent severe illness, hospitalisation and death; the vaccines are safe, effective and free.”

The GHS has started the second phase of the National COVID-19 Deployment Plan targeted at the entire population (emphasis provided), except people under 18 and expectant women, who will be catered for later.

The service has increased vaccination centres to include virtually all health facilities as part of efforts to bring the vaccines closer to everybody.

Currently, over two million people in this country have received at least a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ghana is on course and is steadily progressing towards reaching the target of vaccinating 20 million people.

He said 98 per cent of people affected and hospitalised under the third wave, plus majority of the deaths, were among persons who had not taken any jab at all.

In addition to the preventive measures, such as wearing masks at public places, avoiding crowded places, frequent washing of hands with soap under running water and keeping a physical distance of 1-2 metres, vaccination against COVID-19, an important and essential tool in the fight against the pandemic, has been added to the preventive and protective measures.

“Our efforts at reducing the spread of COVID-19 are yielding results. However, the end to the pandemic is far from sight. Now that vaccines are available, the time to get vaccinated is now!” Dr Kuma-Aboagye emphasized.

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The question is, why is that detailed information on Phase Two still not generally available, recalling how well publicized the Phase One dates and centres were, in March?

Having provided the public with the heartfelt GHS appeal as to why those not vaccinated should reconsider their stance, if, as expected, some people are convinced by the D-G’s powerful message, wouldn’t it be natural that those converts would need information about when and where?

Regrettably, that information had still not been provided on Wednesday or on Thursday, as at the time of writing this piece.

If the list is not ready, there should have been at least an indication as to how soon it will be.

No doubt the dates and centres will be published eventually, but it’s a pity that the information wasn’t provided at the same time as the Director-General’s message in the Graphic.

It’s not far-fetched that despite the “misconceptions” and “hesitancy”, there are people who are anxious to get their jab and are waiting to find out when and where.

Indeed, I personally have had to seek that information on behalf of others, through enquiries to a couple of health centres in my area, with no luck, hence my disappointment with the conspicuous omission in the D-G’s plea.

I think that massive publicity about Phase Two centres and dates, and as soon as possible, is necessary, because, again, I believe that is what many people are waiting for.

It’s a very pragmatic move that the GHS has started increasing the centres.

Furthermore, having stated that the second phase of the National COVID-19 Deployment Plan targets the entire population, clearly people need to know when and where they can access the service – and the earlier the better.

Possibly, the GHS strategy of more centres, thereby reducing stressful queueing, and underscoring that vaccination is a normal, lifesaving procedure, could be key in convincing anti-vaxxers to change their mind.

Yes, doubters there may be, but nobody should be able to use as an excuse for not getting vaccinated the explanation that they didn’t know when or where to go for their jab.

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