As Kenya emerged from the world’s deadliest pandemic in history, Covid 19, the biggest dragon that hesitated and prevented vaccination against the disease were scary myths that circulated worldwide.
When the government of Kenya initiated a free and voluntary nationwide Covid-19 vaccination in March 2021, convincing people to take the jabs was a challenge considering the already available misinformation that filled the air.
But how did Health Stakeholders manage to debunk the myths at the Coast region of Kenya, where residents are inseparable with their traditions and social cultural practices?
Looking at today’s Covid 19 vaccination statistics, efforts of the Ministry Of Health in Mombasa County in collaboration with a web of Non- Governmental Organizations, Community Health Promoters (CHP) and other health players have evidently born fruits.
Florence Mugambi, a Mnazi local brewer at Kwa Bulo area in Kadzandani ward narrated the fears she had before finally accepting to get the vaccines.
Ms Mugambi had been told that the vaccines would alter her fertility, cause too much watery discharge during sex and reduce her body’s ability to get drunk.
Her local brew customers, so vulnerable to Covid 19 disease contamination, had refused to take the jabs owing to the horrifying wrong tales but later accepted after discovering that indeed the myths were false.
“Three health workers came here three times to convince my customers and I to get vaccinated but we kept chasing them away. One of them managed to convince me after coming back for the third time and that is when I accepted to get the vaccines. Now I have the Covid 19 vaccination certificate and can travel anywhere without the particular restriction.”Florence Mugambi, resident
USAID Stawisha Pwani Technical officer COVID-19, Vincent Ohuru, informed that myths are one of the biggest challenges that dwindled their efforts in offering voluntary vaccination exercise in the region.
Ohuru revealed that ‘Mwenye Syndrome’, a common belief in the Coast region that positions women to be owned by men, dragged the vaccination exercise at some point besides the fabricated myths.
The belief bars wives from making decisions independently without their husbands therefore indicating that some women would only go for vaccines if their husbands told them to.
According to Ohuru, Stawisha Pwani together with other health partners collaborated consistent efforts to vaccinate eligible residents at the Coast region through a well-organized communication strategy to provide the right information about the vaccines.
“We approached religious leaders to convey the right information about the vaccines to their followers. We vaccinated and trained the boda boda operators who educated other members of the public on the vaccines. We made and distributed Information Education Communication (IEC) materials with the right written and photographic messages about COVID-19 vaccines”, he said.
He added that the project integrated the vaccination exercise and education with other projects they are implementing in the region as well as those being implemented by the County governments.Vincent Ohuru USAID Stawisha Pwani technical officer
“For instance people who came for HIV/AIDS testing and counseling also received the right information on COVID-19 vaccination. Patients who visited facilities to seek for treatment of other illnesses and pregnant mothers who came for clinics were also educated on the need of getting the jabs”, he revealed.
Speaking to the media at his office, Mombasa County Chief Officer for Public Health and Disease Prevention Abdalla Daleno acknowledged health stakeholders’ efforts in the region for demystifying the myths and making vaccination exercise a success in the county.
Daleno reported that over 717,156 people in Mombasa county have been vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccination first doze, second doze and the booster.
“Of the total number of the eligible citizens vaccinated with the various COVID-19 vaccines, 340,612 are Female, 376,377 Male and 168 are intersects. Those who received a cumulative doses including first, second and booster form 42.9% of the target”, Daleno clarified.
He acknowledged that the health department recorded several misleading information about the vaccines with some people claiming that they would deposit government tracking devices in an individual’s body if injected.
“Our challenges have been with issues of misrepresentation of facts. Very wrong information such as Covid 19 vaccines prevent male libido and fertility, enhance female infertility, government using the vaccines to control population, and as a microchip to track citizens.”Mombasa County Chief Officer for Public Health and Disease Prevention Abdalla Daleno
We have corrected these myths through radio talk shows, public participation where we do health promotion in informing the public to rely on the right information from the public health office.
Daleno said that the county government is currently out of stock of Covid-19 vaccines disclosing that the Ministry of Health promised to supply the vaccines from the first week of October 2023.
“As soon as we receive the vaccines we will intensify the vaccination exercise through door-to-door engagement”, Delano explained adding “ we already have an outreach program at the Likoni channel on rota virus so we would wish to do the same for covid-19 vaccination in order to achieve our target of 90% coverage of the population”.
According to Delano, Mombasa county has not recorded any adverse side effects of COVID-19 Vaccination.
In the interiors of kokokola area in Kadzandani sub-location, I meet Everline Tongoloi, a Community Health Promoter on her duty, educating members of the community on COVID 19 vaccines benefitss.
Tongoloi explains how she has been moving from door to door creating awareness on COVID-19 vaccination while sometimes giving the jabs at night.
“Through MOH Mombasa and NGOs sometimes we move with security officials at night giving out the jabs just to ensure that everyone is prevented from the disease”, Tongolei said.
“We faced a lot of challenges especially among drug users who rejected vaccines based on the myth that their bodies would stop getting stimmed with the drugs if they got vaccinated”, she added.
Prior to vaccinating anyone, Tongoloi clarified that the CHPs conditionally educate individuals about the particular dose. She also confirmed that none of any community member she knows has ever reported any adverse side effects from the vaccines.
Kibwana Sayid, a CHP from Kashani in Mombasa county told the media that some people spread the rumors getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a direct ticket to meet the maker.
“Our efforts have born fruits because right now, the community members who had not been vaccinated are looking for us to get the jabs because they understand the benefits of the vaccines”, Kibwana said proudly.
Raphael Korokoro, a boda boda operator in Kisauni sub county Mombasa county, said that he got Covid 19 vaccines because he realized that the nature of his job exposes him to contracting the disease easily.
“We chased the Community health workers several times when they approached us to take the Covid -19 vaccines. People were talking negatively a lot about the vaccines not until I took keen interest to listen carefully only to realize that they were false information. Nothing bad that was said has ever happened to me after taking the two doses of the vaccines plus a booster”, Korokoro said.
“My wife and I don’t regret taking the three Covid-19 vaccines because they are not only preventing the disease but also preventing us from common illnesses like flu”, said Khamisi Juma, a cobbler who also owns a stationery business near Kwa Bulo Primary school in Mombasa County.
Even though hospitals still record few cases of COVID-19 it is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel not only because of the rollout of the vaccines but also the efforts of the government, international and local NGOs, Community Health Promoters and other health players to dispel the far-fetched conspiracy theories.