Non Targeted People Fluke COVID-19 Jabs Amidst Low Uptake By Health Workers

Like Juma, a 34 year old mother who spoke anonymously, said she sneaked in and lied on advice from her neighbor that she is a nurse in Bwaise. “My children are young and I need to protect them irrespective of what the government says. When I get immunized, it means that I can’t give them Covid-19,” she said.
Acting Kitgum General Hospital Medical Superintendant Dr Geoffery Okello reacts during covid-19 vaccination at the health facility on Wednesday.

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A number of unauthorised people are getting COVID-19 jabs, thanks to the hesitation of frontline health workers. Last week, the Health Ministry rolled out the mass vacation of COVID-19 vaccination targeting frontline health workers.

Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Senior Public Relations Officer Ministry of Health told URN on Wednesday that over 2400 people across the country had been vaccinated.  According to Ainebyoona, most of the districts started vaccinating on Monday.  

The statistics from the Ministry show good progress considering that just days into the exercise, 1.6% of 150,000 the targeted frontline health workers have been reached. However, a visit to some of the vaccination centers shows a slow response from the targeted people.  

For example, vaccinators at Mulago National Referral hospital would wait hours on Wednesday before another person could step in for vaccination. Our reporter observed that only three people walked in between 11 am and 1 pm. As a result, some people outside the targeted category have decided to walk in for vaccination.

For example, a youth from Wandegeya, who only identified himself as Juma sneaked in at Mulago National Referral hospital on Wednesday and took the jab.  He told URN that he had spent the morning snooping around to see what is required of him to get vaccinated since the vaccinators looked redundant. “When I went in to try, they only asked for my ID. I told them I work in the lab”, he said.

Juma explained to URN that he is worried that in future people might be required to pay highly for the drug yet health workers are not responding.   

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Like Juma, a 34 year old mother who spoke anonymously, said she sneaked in and lied on advice from her neighbor that she is a nurse in Bwaise.  “My children are young and I need to protect them irrespective of what the government says. When I get immunized, it means that I can’t give them Covid-19,” she said.

Adding that, “When I came to Mulago, I lied to them that I’m a nurse in Bwaise. They asked for my National ID number and gave me the form. It was simple,” she said.  The low turn up at Mulago National Referral Hospital is surprising, according to Dr. Richard Idro, the President of Uganda Medical Association. He says that besides hospital staff, they expect lecturers at the medical school and retired doctors from the Kampala metropolitan area to turn up for the vaccination.

Apart from the health workers, the government plans to vaccinate security officers, teachers, the elderly and people with preexisting conditions that predispose them to COVID-19 infection.  The vaccination of health workers was supposed to end in five days but Idro says they have now resolved to carry on the exercise concurrently with other priority populations such that more health workers can take advantage of the extension.

But, the extension, an oncologist who spoke to URN on condition of anonymity said may not necessarily lead to more frontline health workers showing up for the jab. The doctor, who told URN he is not planning to take the jab, said the COVID-19 response has been politicized globally leading to failure for decision-makers to avail the public enough information to enable them to make informed choices.

Outside of the capital Kampala, a lot of health workers have stayed away too citing trust issues. At Kitgum General Hospital, for instance, a number of health workers said they are staying away for fear of the adverse reactions of the AstraZeneca vaccine suspected elsewhere in the world.

Kitgum District received 3,120 doses of the AstraZeneca Vaccine, which will be administered at five health facilities in Lagoro, Loborom, Orom and Namokora over the next two weeks. A total of 178 staff majority of health workers at Kitgum General Hospital had been lined up for the vaccination exercise.

But nearly five hours after the launch of the vaccination, none of the health workers apart from the acting Medical Superintendent of Kitgum hospital had received the Jab. Some Health workers who spoke to URN reveal that they are afraid to get vaccinated over safety concerns surrounding the vaccine.

Grace Atim, a midwife at Kitgum General Hospital says a number of her colleagues are hesitant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine jab claiming its safety is unclear. Atim says some of the health workers have confided in her that they will only take the vaccine when she is vaccinated since she is among those administering the vaccine. 

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Atim says that although she is sure the vaccine is safe, she is sceptical of developing some adverse effects and consequently losing her life after being vaccinated. 

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She notes that the fear among the health workers is real following repeated reports of the vaccine suspension in many other countries. 

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Another health worker at the hospital who spoke on condition of anonymity disclosed that many top officials shied away from taking the jab even after launching it at the Hospital. She notes that their actions have further affected their confidence and willingness to take the jab. 

“What impression does it give us when the people who launched this vaccine this morning left without being vaccinated? We are also skeptical, when the right time comes, I will take this jab but for now, I am afraid,” She said. 

Dr. Geoffrey Okello, the acting Medical Superintendent Kitgum General Hospital, says that the concerns about the safety of the vaccine came up during the orientation with the staff but a detailed explanation was given to them.  Dr. Okello says that they expect the staff to embrace the vaccine for its benefits that helps in reducing the severity of the virus. 

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However, even as unclear safety concerns are the most cited by health workers for hesitancy, those that have taken the jab have only got minor symptoms that can be expected with any vaccine.  Dr. Anitah Tumwebaze, a paediatrician working at the Neonatal Unit of the Mulago Women’s Hospital said she felt dizzy after taking the jab but the symptoms would disappear after having a few hours of rest.

She told URN some of her colleagues claim to have experienced a fever, headache and others chest heaviness.   According to Dr. Monica Musenero, the presidential advisor on epidemics, the country is on high alert and there’s a team on the lookout for any serious adverse effects reported by the recipients.

For her, while vaccination is voluntary, it’s crucial that health workers fully take part because of their higher risk.