By Awa Macalo
In The Gambia, Covid-19 vaccine conspiracy theories have kept many from taking the jabs.
Since the World Health Organisation declared that the coronavirus outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) in January 2020, governments around the world mobilise efforts to get a vaccine to fight the deadly virus that has claimed more than 4 million lives globally with over 200 million positive cases registered.
The first vaccines such as J&J, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm were administered by the United States, England and China, respectively.
The Gambia, a West African country with a population of little over 2 million people, was part of the first countries in Africa that received the vaccine.
The vaccine was administered in the country in March 2021. As a show of leadership, the president, Adama Barrow, volunteered to take the first Jab and since then over 200, 000 have been vaccinated across the country. However, Gambia’s health authorities have complained that people are reluctant to come out to take the vaccines.
The first 36,000 doses were donated to the country by UNICEF through the COVAX facility.
AstraZeneca, as the first Covid-19 vaccine to the country was administered to frontline health workers, people with underlying health problems and older people, age 65 and above.
However, since the country has received more vaccines from England, US, France and China, the government has now shifted its attention to citizens as means of curbing the devastating effects of the virus.
The government has since facilitated vaccination centres and started massive sensitization on the importance of taking the vaccine.
According to Gambia’s health officials, the vaccine intends to provide acquired immunity against severe acute respiratory syndrome. But this purpose was twisted by many Gambians.
Mariama Jabbi, a 29-year-old Gambian, mother to three, who is living in an extended family in Tabokoto, said she cannot imagine herself or any of her children being vaccinated. To her, it is too early for the world to be able to administer Covid-19 vaccine. “It is risky for any Gambian to allow him or herself to take any jab,” she said.
She added: “I do not trust these vaccines. We had HIV/AIDs – it is more than ten years today and the world cannot come up with a vaccine. Within two years, they were able to get a vaccine for Covid-19. This is complicated and I believe we should not rush it.”
Mariama is not alone; more than one third of the country’s population is still reluctant to take the jab. Samba Bah, a tailor resident in Banjul, said he would rather die of Covid-19 than take the vaccine.
“I believe that all those that got their first jab of the vaccine had recently suffered from the virus. The vaccine itself is Covid-19, I have not seen any single person that had taken the vaccine without falling sick. Why would I even go for something that would not prevent me from the virus? I believe in the existence of coronavirus, and I prefer adhering to the precautionary measures rather than being vaccinated,” he said.
Fatou Njie* told The Standard that she could not take the vaccines because she has serious allergies.
“I have serious allergies so I am scared to take the vaccine. But this is not to say that I don’t trust vaccines. It is just that sometimes when I take medicines my body reacts so badly,” she said.
The director of health promotion, Modou Njai said at least 200,894 people have been vaccinated in The Gambia since the first vaccine was administered in March.
The proportion of the national target population (≥ 18 years) that has been fully vaccinated as of the 6th September 2021, (2 doses of AZ/Sinopharm OR 1 dose of J&J) represent 10.5% while the proportion of the target population that received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose (AZ OR J&J OR Sinopharm) represent 11.5%.
According to the health ministry’s data on the number of people vaccinated throughout the country, 60021 fixed-men were vaccinated in all the seven regions while outreach-male is 33699. The total number of fixed females vaccinated so far is 60704 while outreach females represent 46470.