Community Dialogues Crackdown Myths Over Covid 19 – Vaccine

The Family Planning Association of Malawi (FPAM) implementing Global Fund Covid – 19 Response Mechanism project through Ministry of Health and Action Aid has learned that community dialogues conducted between 24th June 2022 and 2nd July 2022 to assess the impact of Covid-19 Impact on TB, HIV, and Malaria Health Services in Mchinji, have supported breaking down of myths and misconceptions that hinder people from accessing Covid-19 vaccines and boosters. 

Different groups including support groups, vulnerable groups, key population groups, youth groups, and women groups expressed their fears about Covid-19 vaccines and health workers cleared common misunderstandings. Testimonials also provided evidence based on their personal life stories and accurate information was provided instantly.

“My friends and family members speculated that Covid-19 vaccine was designed to kill people on Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) and that you cannot survive beyond six months after getting the vaccine jabs,” said Mary Sostern Zulu, holder of 16 key community position including Secretary of Nkhawa Zatha support group under Kochilila health centre in Kamwendo, Mchinji. “I kept counting down lifeline months and when I got to the seventh month, I quickly became the testimony that Covid-19 vaccine was not designed to kill people on ART treatment,” Zulu added to appeal to people that attended Kochilira dialogue meeting at Kamwendo primary school.

Zulu showing her evidence of Covid – 19 vaccination during Kamwendo dialogue meeting

Mikundi dialogue meeting participants like other meeting participants indicated that youth are among the population that is not demanding much the vaccine just because some parents, guardians, religious and some teachers threaten and discourage youth from getting Covid-19 jabs for fear that the vaccine causes infertility in youth, and that they are not ready to have a barren generation.  “It’s interesting and encouraging to notice that people living with disabilities are also issued the Covid-19 vaccine but not all youth are free to access it. But this meeting has helped to learn that the vaccine has no harm to young people because some who got jabs last year in June are pregnant and some have given birth to healthy babies,” said Francis Zimba, Mikundi health center youth corner lead with albinism.

“I have learned that the Covid-19 vaccine does not cause infertility in youth and I will inform our colleagues at Our Vision youth club to get vaccinated,” said Brian Waxa, a form three secondary school student in Mchinji.

Waxa was relieved from fears that Covid-19 vaccine causes infertility in youth

Exemplary leaders have proven to influence demand creation for Covid-19 vaccination in their areas because people believe their leaders more than any other person for the source of development information.

“We have observed that chiefs, politician’s religious leaders that get vaccinated first before their people, create demand for covid-19 vaccine more than any other people in our communities,” said Joana Chasweka, a Catholic Church religious leader from Kapanga health area, Traditional Authority Mavwere. She added that “Out of all religious institutions, Jehovah’s Witness is a great example because they actually demand evidence of vaccination in every congregation and some of their church leaders escort their members to health facilities or health workers for vaccination,” she added.

Mchinji DHO HIV Coordinator Godfrey Mkwankenja dispelled most myths related to health facility Covid-19 service delivery. “Do not fear to go to the hospital to test for both Covid – 19 and TB although you could spot some similar signs and symptoms,” he explained. Mwankenja said “It is not true that the oxygen ventilators were designed to kill Covid-19 patients. As most of you know, many lives of babies and adults have been saved because it’s a lifesaving machine. And it’s not a good practice to escape from health facility quarantine before recovering from Covid – 19 infection, it risks spread of infections.”

Mwankenja ruled out misunderstandings on how Covid-19 patients are cared for at a health facility

All community health workers working as Health Surveillance Assistants who are also Covid-19 vaccine providers indicated that community information sessions have helped a lot to explain why some doses have changed. “People now have good understood that Johnson and Johnson (JJ) vaccine is now a double dose and people also need to get a booster dose like three doses in total likewise Pfizer and AstraZeneca,” said Veronica Mazunda who serves Health Surveillance Assistance at Mchinji DHO.        

Mchinji dialogue meetings took place at Kapiri, Kochilira, Mikundi, Chioshya, Chipumi; Guillime, Ludzi, Mphelero, Tembwe, Nkhwazi, Namizana; MDH, Kapanga, Welleness, Kaigwazanga, Mkanda, Fanuele, Chimwamkango, Gumba, Kazyozyo health facilities shared need to invest in community mobilization and demand creation interventions like continued best vaccination models like vaccinating my village and express van which comes with edutainment, entertainment people in rural areas like to follow. The participants also requested establishing many testing sites to support remote Covid-19 cases evidence generation and promotion of compliance to Covid-19 preventive measures. 

Disease Control Surveillance Assistant (DCSA) previously known as Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) have claimed that their Covid-19 vaccination data records show that not more than 50% of the population in their catchment areas have accessed the Covid-19 vaccine in Mchinji district.