Breaking the vaccine hesitancy among Persons Living with HIV

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Sun, 2 Oct 2022 Source: GNA

Vaccinated peer volunteers had to support their counsel with a COVID-19 vaccine card before Marian Akoto 24, agreed to take the jab.

Initially, she refused to take the vaccine when the Ghana Health Service announced the timetable for priority groups including Persons living with HIV in March 2020.

This is because she has a phobia of sharp objects. Marian had a bitter history of contracting the HIV virus through an infected blade at school.

There was content that suggested that the vaccine had a chip, caused fertility issues and killed people after taking the COVID-19 shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognises themes in news sources especially social media as a tool that may impact on vaccine confidence.

Its Confidence Insights August 2022 Report, says, a section of the public globally believes that vaccines are not safe or effective.

Marian’s initial posture towards the vaccine is not different from many especially PLHIV who are said to have a weakened immune system, because of their unique medical conditions.

But with timely and accurate communication on Covid-19, she was not left behind.

Currently, some 150,000 of 346,120 PLHIV in Ghana are on antiretroviral therapy to boost their immune system, according to 2019 National HIV estimates and projections.

PLHIV were part of the groups that were hardest hit by COVID-19.

To cater for their needs, she says an initiative called, “Reduce COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and maximize vaccine uptake towards attaining the National HIV targets” was introduced.

The initiative trained youth-PLHIV to undertake a door-to-door education to convince and encourage members on the need to take the vaccine.

Madam Elsie Ayeh, President of NAP+ Ghana told GNA that a team of volunteers were formed in Kumasi and Accra to help convince their “community members” to take the vaccine.

She says to cure the claim of getting sick after taking the jab, the group carried along the outreach with meals to take before the vaccine is administered.

Nearly, 10, 000 PLHIVs at 11 communities in Accra and 13 communities in Kumasi, Ashanti Region were convinced and took the COVID-19 vaccine as a result of the project.

This has contributed to Ghana’s gains of administering 19,055,059 doses of all the five vaccine types, AstraZeneca, Sputnik-V, Moderna, Pfizer-BionNTech and COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen as of August 30, 2022, according to GHS.

She says none of the PLHIVs died of COVID-19 and members although facing the pandemic disruptions they were doing well.

Ms Catherine Bentum-Williams, PACTGH2022 Project Coordinator at Hope for Future Generations explains that the members of the group could not access their medication due to lockdown and other restrictions.

In other to cater for their needs, she says an initiative called “Reduce COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and maximize vaccine uptake towards attaining the National HIV targets” was introduced.

The initiative trained youth-PLHIV to undertake a door-to-door education to convince and encourage members on the need to take the vaccine.

Ms Bentum-William says the project, which ended in August 2022, worked with closely with key partners including NPL+ and GHS to ensure easy access to vaccine centres at the convenience of the targeted group.

Other vulnerable populations like pregnant women and the aged benefited from the project activities.

The initiative supports the ideals of the Africa Health Strategy 2016 – 2030, Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want” and Sustainable Development, which talks about ensuring long and healthy lives and promoting the well-being of all in Africa

False videos and audios on the COVID-19 vaccine that circulated on social media prior to the vaccine roll-out programme heightened her fears.

These contents, which were wildly shared by prominent persons made claims about how people’s health conditions had worsened.

Strong partnerships with stakeholders

Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, the Programme Manager for the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) at the Ghana Health Service, told the Ghana News Agency that the main objective of the vaccine programme was to reduce morbidity, hospitalization, complication and death.

While more than six million people globally lost their lives, according to the World Health Organisation Ghana’s share stands at 1,450.

The country’s health sector, he states achieved these objectives through strong partnerships with many local and international partners and unique initiatives such as that NAP+ and Hope For Future Generations.

He says the inter-sectoral action for health engages other ministries, levels of government and non-state actors in a manner that demonstrates broad stewardship by ministries of health towards all actions conducive and necessary for health.

“Everybody realised that the pandemic was grinding the nation to a halt so there was that united front to find solutions. From vaccine development, cold chain storage and sensitization all hands were on the wheels to reduce protect lives. This is the power of partnership as enshrined in the sustainable development goal 17,” he said.

Source: GNA
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