By Tabora Bojang
The Ministry of Health has said it is worried about the slow pace of the covid-19 vaccination programme amid discouraging statistics following the launch of a vaccination campaign against the deadly virus last month.
As of April 6, fewer than 15, 000 people had received shots in the first phase of the campaign targeting over 480,000 people mainly of vulnerable groups including elderly, health care workers, security forces, teachers and people with underlying health conditions.
The Gambia received over 51,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine under the Covax scheme and another donation of 10, 000 doses of the Chinese Company Sinopharm given by Senegal.
The Director of Health Services, Dr. Mustapha Bittaye told The Standard that the statistics are not encouraging regarding a smooth acceptance of the vaccine by the Gambian populace.
“We were expecting that all the vaccines would have been taken by now but this current trend is very slow,” he queried.
Health Minister, Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh said at the launch of the vaccination campaign that Gambians are known to be highly receptive to vaccination dating back to 1979, saying the same is expected with the Covid-dose.
According to Dr. Bittaye, the Covid vaccine could not get the expected reception due to “the conspiracy theories and misconceptions” about Covid-19.
Dr Bittaye further claimed politicians who were publicly talking negative things about the vaccination have exacerbated public hesitations against the dose.
He said the slow progress of the vaccination among staff from public institutions and rural settlers could hamper the country’s plans to vaccinate 60 percent of the population.
“We could have done better but looking at the acceptance level within rural communities it is very low and even within the institutions some are not coming so we need to do more engagement.
According to Dr Bittaye, all vaccines have expiration dates, and some recommended vaccines for the coronavirus have a validity period of just months after which they are not recommended for use.
He said the implication for the low acceptance of the doses is that “vaccines are not here forever, if we don’t use it after sometime, it will expire.”
He also stated that it will place an unnecessary financial burden on travelers leaving the Gambia since they would be obliged to self-cost quarantine if the Gambia fails to vaccinate at least 50 percent of its population.
“It would be very difficult for us to open up, because we will still be labeled a red unless we can vaccinate a good percentage of our population,” Dr Bittaye disclosed.