Fewer people in the country are taking the Covid-19 vaccine in recent weeks despite the Ministry of Health extending the exercise beyond frontline workers to everyone aged above 18.
Public Health Institute of Malawi (Phim) information on Covid-19 vaccination indicates that between April 7–a day after government extended the vaccination to all Malawians above 18-years-old–and April 20, about 91 598 doses were administered.
The figure is 34 331 less than the 134 856 doses administered in a similar period of between March 24 and April 6.
In an interview on Tuesday, Ministry of Health Principal Secretary (PS) Dr. Charles Mwansambo acknowledged the decline in the number of people taking the vaccine, attributing the development to the 16 440 doses that expired on April 13.
He said: “We started the campaign on 11th March 2021 and the numbers were higher and encouraging. But unfortunately, when the false rumour that all the vaccines had expired started spreading, the turnout in our centres between Tuesday last week and Friday was lower than expected.”
Mwansambo said government has engaged its stakeholders including the clergy, political and traditional leaders, to raise awareness in their communities that the vaccine is safe.
But according to Phim, 260 616 people had been vaccinated as of April 20 2021, representing 2.4 percent of the targeted population.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Chiwoza Bandawe, a clinical psychologist at University of Malawi’s College of Medicine said the reduction of Covid-19 cases may have contributed to the low turnout for vaccination.
He said: “The novelty of it [Covid-19] has begun to swell off, and because the figures are beginning to go down, people are becoming a little bit more relaxed.
“When people feel that their lives are in danger, they are more likely to act. So it could be that at the moment people are seeing [Covid-19 cases] figures going down.”
In a written response, epidemiologist Dr. Titus Divala believed that the main driver of the apathy is the publicly available information about side effects of the vaccines, and the frequent suspensions of vaccination programmes across the planet.
He said: “The vaccine clearly prevents severe disease and death and we have before us the opportunity to save lives but at the moment, this message is very faint in favour of the headline capturing yet extremely rare side-effects.”
Divala said if the low turnout continues, people will fail to protect the country from the effects of Covid-19 should it strike again.
Malawi Health Equity Network executive director George Jobe expressed fear that if the low turnout continues, it will lead to the expiry of more Covid-19 doses.
Government received the first consignment of 360 000 vaccine doses from the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) Facility on March 11 before receiving another batch of 50 000 doses from the Government of India. African Union later donated 102 000 doses bringing the number of doses shipped into the country to 512 000.