By Shiprah Kwagala
In an effort to improve vaccine uptake, the Uganda government has asked religious and cultural institutions to collaborate with it to mobilise citizens during the upcoming mass vaccination drive against Covid-19 this month.
The same strategy of collaboration between UNAIDS and the Buganda kingdom attained maximum attendance during the HIV campaign.
The vaccination drive targeting an estimate of 6.8 Million learners will cover children from 12 to 17 years of age who will receive the Pfizer vaccine, which was approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for children.
Following guidance by the Ministry of Health, parents or guardians to these children will be required to offer consent for a learner to be vaccinated.
Tabley Bakyayita, the Assistant Commissioner-Health promotion, Education and Communication at the Ministry of Health revealed that channels like religious and cultural institutions will play a key role in engaging parents and guardians on the covid-19 vaccination, to see that targets are achieved.
“We know that a number of citizens gather in these places of worship. A word from a Pastor ,Imam, Reverend whenever these people gather will have a big impact and reach a number of people,” said Bakyayita. The vaccination exercise is free will, non- mandatory and without coercion.
The Ministry of Health will provide cultural and religious institutions with IEC materials enabling them to expose the population to facts on Covid-19, vaccines and address any issues causing vaccine hesitancy among parents and guardians.
It should be noted that in the previous mass vaccination drives against Covid-19, cultural leaders were at the fore front which saw a number of people affiliated to cultural institutions like kingdoms of Buganda, Ankole and Busoga respond to the call.
A case in point is one vaccination drive by Buganda Kingdom where the turn up superseded the number of doses availed to the leaders according to reports. To continue with the drive, the kingdom received additional 50,000doses in April this year.
Religious institutions as well backed the cause by having their leaders vaccinated publically as a way of leading by example and clearing some of the misconceptions among natives about the vaccine.
While learners settle home for holidays, Dr. Bakyayita added that the Ministry of Health is to use more platforms like social media to tailor messages for the learners on vaccination.
“While our target is parents and guardians who are to give consent, it is important that the learners who are to receive the jab have knowledge of the vaccination. This will even help them remind their guardians to be responsive to our call.”
In the same vain, district leaders including the District Education Officer, Resident District Commissioner (RDC) together with the Covid-19 task forces would continue with community engagement through radio talks and announcements on the vaccination exercise.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission through its report on the state of human rights and freedoms notes that the voluntary consent of people during vaccination is key. It stresses that one consenting to the vaccination should have sufficient knowledge to do so.
The report states; “ This means that the person involved should have the legal capacity to give consent; should be able to exercise free power of choice without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching, or other ulterior forms of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the treatment or vaccine involved to enable them to make an informed, understanding and enlightened decision.”
Meanwhile, a number of parents in Iganga district have already embraced the initiative due to sensitisation by health workers and are taking their children for vaccination before the official roll out .
Aisha Bwire, a vendor dealing in groceries along Kaliro Road in Iganga district mentioned that she wants her son aged 14 to get vaccinated because the pandemic has claimed lives of children as well.
Bwire said; “This thing is killing people, it is no respecter of age. If vaccination is a safe guarding measure then I am going to have my son take it.”
Moses Baliraine, another parent residing in Bulubandi noted that he is confident that the government cannot recommend a vaccine to endanger the lives of its own. Baliraine argued that since he took the vaccine, nothing grave happened to him and he will use the same experience for his 15 year old daughter.
“Some people are just fond of opposing government ventures. Our children have been vaccinated in the past against the killer diseases, why can’t we trust the government on the Covid-19 vaccine as well?”
Dr. Patrick Kitimbo, the District Health Officer of Iganga concerning what the plan was for the vaccination exercise in his community noted that he was still waiting on the Ministry of Health general guide for his level before laying unique strategy.
However, he said that this was an exercise they were looking forward to and expected good response from parents since outreaches among the community on Covid-19 vaccination have been ongoing.
At the moment 40 percent of the people in Uganda have received at least one vaccine dose, while 31 percent are fully vaccinated.