What you need to know:
- “Why then are vaccination teams in Uganda practising contrary to the available evidence?’’
By Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima
As countries worldwide continue to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccination has been named as one of the most effective strategies in containing the disease and building herd immunity among publics.
The presence of novel vaccine technologies, the unprecedented partnerships and commitment from governments, vaccine manufacturers, private funders, donors and regulatory agencies, have facilitated the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines.
In March, amid a very tight global competition among countries for Covid-19 vaccines, the Uganda through the COVAX facility received its first 864,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
These were rolled out in the first phase of vaccination countrywide but focusing mainly on priority groups such as healthcare workers, security personnel, teachers, humanitarian frontline workers, and patients at high risk of severe Covid-19.
On June 16, Uganda received 175,200 more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine donated by the French government through the COVAX facility. These additional doses aimed at ensuring that all health workers and those eligible for their second dose get vaccinated.
As a nurse-midwife and women’s health specialist at the frontline, I prepared myself for the vaccine at the beginning of April. However, while at one of the KCCA vaccination centres, I witnessed pregnant and breastfeeding mothers being chased away.
When I sought to find out why these mothers were chased away, yet according to World Health Organisation they are eligible for jab, the nurses and midwives told me that according to the training conducted by the Ministry of Health prior to the vaccination process, they were informed that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers could not receive the vaccine.
Available health evidence indicates that pregnant women are more likely to suffer severe forms of Covid-19 if they contracted the virus.
It is also medically known that some medications like vaccines may not be recommended among this group of people.
But at the start of July, one evening while appearing on a local television, a renowned consultant obstetrician-gynaecologist and researcher from Kawempe National Referral Hospital confirmed that pregnant (more than 12 weeks’ gestation) and breastfeeding mothers are now eligible for Covid-19 as per the new evidence.
Why then are vaccination teams in Uganda practising contrary to the available evidence?
I encouraged a pregnant colleague to go for her Covid-19 vaccine since the evidence showed that it is safe. My colleague drove to more than three Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) vaccination sites. However, when she mentioned that she was 13 weeks pregnant, the vaccination team would turn her away.
Has the Ministry of Health not communicated this new evidence to the implementers? Nurses and midwives have all along been the champions of all vaccination campaigns in Uganda and have won the public trust on that. Therefore, the information they disseminate to the public plays a big role.
There is a need for urgent intervention by the Ministry of Health to clarify and guide the vaccination teams and the general public on the facts and myths of the Covid-19 vaccine. Additionally, because the evidence on this disease and subsequent vaccines keeps on changing, there is a need to have routine engagement with all the frontline teams to keep them updated.
Lilian Nuwabaine Luyima is a trained nurse; midwife & women’s health specialist and continuous professional development coordinator at the Aga Khan University.