MONROVIA, Montserrado – As African countries have now begun to receive COVID-19 vaccine doses, former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says it is vital for African governments to educate and reassure the public about the vaccines.
Ghana was the first country in Africa to receive doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines under COVAX, a global initiative to ensure that populations of lower-income countries receive equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Cote d’Ivoire’s delivery soon followed.
With a population of 30 million, Ghana received 600,000 doses while Cote d’Ivoire received 504,000 doses for its 25 million population.
Sirleaf’s statement comes out of a realization that there are many myths and fears surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines on the African continent.
Speaking on February 17 alongside other senior African leaders at a webinar hosted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program, Sirleaf outlined steps that governments can take to ensure equitable and accessible COVID-19 vaccine distribution across the African continent.
According to Sirleaf, governments on the continents should build confidence in the vaccines.
“In all of this, people’s confidence is a major factor,” she said. “Unless people know of the vaccine, know of its results, its processes – difficulties can arise even when there’s availability because they don’t understand. If they don’t have the right information and assurance, that also could undermine the effectiveness of the vaccine delivery system.”
Touching on the issue of equity, Sirleaf noted that global and national discrepancies in vaccine distribution were inevitable: “Nations may fail to adhere to agreed targeting regimes which prioritize the vaccination of frontline workers, the elderly, and the most vulnerable.”
She urged for transparency on monitoring and reporting of the vaccination effort.
“National leaders must communicate clearly to frontline workers and local leaders about the progress of the vaccine delivery and any areas requiring improvement,” she added.
Additionally, Sirleaf said national governments need to also prepare, strengthen, and monitor local government authorities to ensure that the vaccines are available to rural communities with underdeveloped infrastructure.
“At the end of the day, the vaccine delivery to a poor rural family in an area that has no infrastructure depends on the passion of that community health worker who is so committed because you’ve given them the incentive – not only of the supplies and the money – but [of] the recognition of the role they play,” the former president said.
As the discussion drew to a close, Sirleaf emphasized that economic recovery is only possible through the stimulation of the private sector.
She explained that countries must now turn their attention towards private industry to ensure that operational investment continues, and additional investments are facilitated.
In conclusion, she mentioned that regional cooperation and the development of national private-sector systems must be prioritized to help countries rebuild as COVID 19 vaccine rollouts continue.
According to Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah, Liberia is expecting its first batch of vaccines to enter the country by the middle of March.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah