Fake news driving low Covid vaccine uptake – Daily Monitor

A health worker administers the Covid-19 vaccine at Kololo Independence Grounds in June. Photo | File
In a September 17 letter to the National Medical Stores (NMS), the Ministry of Health (MoH) instructed the former to withdraw Covid-19 vaccines from districts that will not have utilised them by September 25.  
Out of the 2,152,840 doses of vaccines distributed to districts, only 1,697,748 doses have been utilised. This means that by September 17, at least 455,095 doses had not been administered. 
Up to 68 districts have balances that will expire on September 30 and these include Terego, Bunyangabu, Buvuma, Amuru, Namisindwa, Lwengo, Rubirizi, Madi-Okollo, Kakumiro, Namutumba, and Manafwa. 
The MoH spokesperson, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyona, says so far, vaccines have been withdrawn from Obongi District. 
“Ever since we issued the communication to NMS, these districts have put in place measures to ensure quick utilisation of the vaccines by September 30. I am sure that none of them will have any vaccines left by then,” he says. 
Some of the measures put in place to draw people to the vaccination centres include mass media mobilisation and outreach programmes. 
Mr Gilbert Okwi, the Manafwa deputy Resident District Commissioner and a member of the district Covid-19 taskforce, attributes the low vaccine uptake in his district to apathy and lack of interest in the coronavirus. 
“We have negative forces that are mobilising people and giving them all sorts of messages to indicate that vaccines are not safe. But we are asking them to prove that anybody has had dire side effects from the vaccines. No one has come forth. So, we are carrying out mass media mobilisation with the support of implementing partners,” he says.   
Manafwa District received 6,000 doses of AstraZaneca vaccine. 
However, Dr Daniel Wenane, the district health officer, says with the lifting of the lockdown, majority of the residents believed that the pandemic had ended.  
“People don’t wear masks, they want to be in crowds, and they no longer want to wash their hands with soap and water. We are still getting Covid-19 cases in the hospital, and actually, in the past week, Manafwa District had a Covid-19 positivity rate of 15 percent. That means in the few tests that we do, we get many positives,” he says.   
According to National Planning Authority’s weekly Covid-19 case projections, for the week of September 19 to 25, an average of 110 new cases per day and a total of 771 new cases are projected. 
For the week of September 26 to October 2, a daily average of 117 new cases and a weekly total of 819 is projected.  
Statistics from the Ministry of Health show that the number of admissions in both government and private hospitals has increased from 366 in August to 426 as of September 12.  
Soroti District, has so far received 12,308 doses of Covid-19 vaccines. However, Dr Charles Okaj, the district health officer, said only about 6,000 doses have been used. 
The district, which is currently being considered the epicentre of a new wave, is having severe disease fatalities.  
“Because of the low uptake, we are not surprised at the new infections. On average, from August 16, we admit 10 new cases everyday at Soroti Hospital. At anytime, about 70 people are admitted with Covid-19, half of them very ill and on oxygen. We are losing about two people per day,” he says.  
Mr Michael Higenyi, the Butaleja District chairperson, has issued orders to the police to arrest anyone found using public transport without proof of vaccination. 
“I want them (the police) to put officers at every trading centre. Whoever does not have proof that they have been vaccinated should be sent back home immediately. No one should come to the health facilities for services without wearing a mask,” he says. 
However, Mr Siraje Higenyi, a resident of Butaleja District, says the false information earlier received put them off. 
“We heard on the radio that the first batch of vaccines that came into the country was poisonous. That made us hesitate and consider our options. Maybe they should re-sensitise the population again. I am willing to be vaccinated, but I am not comfortable with the fact that they do not give out vaccination cards,” he says. 
Mr Joseph Okello, the councillor and a member of the Village Health Team (VHT) of Izilangobi Village in Namutumba District, says people stayed away because the vaccines were for teachers. 
“On radio, we are informed that they are prioritising teachers and medical workers. How do you expect other people to come to the vaccination centres? We also heard that money had been sent to the district to facilitate the VHTs [Village Health Teams] and LCs to mobilise the people, but we have never seen that money. So, we do not feel motivated,” he says. 
Another resident, Ms Sarah Namwase Kibwiika, says she heard about the vaccines for the first time yesterday.  
“When I heard, I told my friends that we should go to the vaccination centre. But, one of them said she had heard that the vaccine is administered through an injection in the nose. I am scared of that injection in the nose so I will not go. I heard that that is how people are vaccinated against hepatitis,” she says.  
Despite the challenges of misinformation, Dr James Kiirya, the Namutumba District health officer, says they will not be sending back unutilised vaccines. So far, the district has immunised 7,255 people.  
“As you know, this is a rural area, and we are now in the rainy season. People first go to their gardens before they can think of visiting the vaccination centres. 
However, we are stepping up to ensure that we bring the services closer to the villages through outreaches. I am confident that by September 30, we will have used up the 2,000 SinoVac vaccines we have in the store,” he says.  
When it comes to sensitising people, some like Mr Benson Ekuwe of the Teso Anti-Corruption Coalition believes that it was a mistake to leave out religious leaders. 
“If Soroti market that hosts many people is open how can you justify the continued closure of churches? I think residents are carrying out a silent defiance.   
He says as civil society, they have done their part to sensitise the public, but he adds that locals listen more to religious leaders than other people. 
What is clear is that local leaders have an uphill task to combat the inadequate and wrong information that has been given to the residents if the uptake of the Covid-19 vaccines is to increase. 
Additional reporting by David Wandeka, Kenneth Odele, and Isaac Kintu. 
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