Malawians have given mixed responses to the administration of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, with some districts such as Blantyre and Lilongwe registering a good turnout and others like Likoma and Chitipa getting a lukewarm reaction.
Random interviews yesterday showed that Blantyre, Thyolo and Lilongwe had an overwhelming response for the vaccine when it rolled out in earnest for the phase targeting social workers, the elderly aged above 60 and people with underlying health conditions such as hypertension, cancers, diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV and Aids.
In an interview, Chitipa District Council director of health and social services (DHSS) Dr Wilson Ching’ani said while numbers for health workers and social service providers were encouraging, few of the people aged above 60 or with underlying conditions were turning up.
He attributed the lukewarm response, especially in rural settings, to lack of civic education among the general populace. He said his office had requested for funding from the central government for sensitisation, but was yet to be allocated.
Ching’ani said: “In as far as the first target is concerned, when we talk of healthcare workers as well as men and women in uniform, our numbers are really good. But there is a shortfall on the other groups like for those 60 years and above and those with other conditions.”
He also said even those outside the first phase were turning up to access the vaccine, but said these are only those able to access information on their phones and are not as many.
In a separate interview, Likoma DHSS Gracewell Mathewe said they registered slow progress due to misconceptions on the vaccine allegedly disseminated by both community members and some health workers.
He said: “By Sunday, we had vaccinated only 70 people, among them two with underlying conditions and zero for those above 60 years. The challenge we have is misconceptions on the vaccine, sometimes perpetrated by health workers.
“We are trying hard to ensure
that these misconceptions are cleared by engaging community members and leaders.
“Some think the vaccine is not safe and have given me two weeks to see how the vaccine will work in my body. They know I have
received the jab and want to see if I will have any problems.”
Likoma, with a population of about 15 000, received 500 doses of the vaccine in the first phase, which Mathewe said are enough for the targeted people.
But Blantyre DHSS Gift Kawalazira said they received an overwhelming response from across all ages, including healthcare workers, security agencies and the public.
He said: “You can imagine that at one place today at the Gateway Clinic, we have vaccinated over 700 people. By the time we closed at 4pm, some people were still on the queue waiting for their turn and have been given numbers to come on Tuesday.
“It’s all categories, including those with some conditions and those above 60 years. The middle
aged and the youth are coming too. This shows people have now understood the importance of the vaccine.”
In Blantyre’s neighbouring Thyolo District, acting DHSS Dennis Solomon also said the numbers in both urban and rural areas was overwhelming.
At the time of the interview around 4pm, he said the district hospital had vaccinated over 200 people.
Said Solomon: “People have seen that the district commissioner, their political and other leaders have received the jab. This has cleared misconceptions and generated acceptance. All those earmarked for the first phase are responding well.”
He said Thyolo requested 7 000 doses, but received 12 000,
meaning that even more people will be vaccinated during the first phase. doses, but received 12 000,
In Lilongwe, DHSS Alinafe Mbewe said they are also receiving an overwhelming response with some young people bringing along their parents to get vaccinated.
“I have been to Capital Hill and Bingu National Stadium, where I saw many
people coming to receive the vaccine. For the elderly, they are being given priority so that they don’t take too long standing on the queue,” she said.
In Ntchisi, DHSS Lumbani Munthali said they are now doing phase one (A) of the exercise where the target is frontline health workers, prison and police officers. Since Wednesday last week, they have so far vaccinated 495 people.
“Out of that figure, 395 are health workers, 63 are police officers while 37 are prison officers. We expect the phase to end on Tuesday and thereafter on Wednesday, we will commence phase one [B] which looks at prisoners but also the elderly and people with underlying conditions,” he said.
Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Dr Charles Mwansambo said in an interview that unlike last week, the numbers have started picking up.
He urged all stakeholders, including the media, to rally people and raise awareness on the vaccine by sharing information.
Said Mwansambo: “We have also engaged community radio stations because we know that they play a great part. We have engaged the majority of them and are airing the messages about Covid-19 and the vaccine.”
He also said about 100 000 more doses from the African Union will arrive in the country soon while an extra 1.26 million doses from the Covax facility will be in by end of May.
In their reactions, local health experts said the seal of approval by World Health Organisation (WHO) on the safety of the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine should encourage all Malawians to receive the vaccine once they get a chance.
In an interview, National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives in Malawi president Shouts Simeza said Covid-19 issues in the country were politicised.
He said: “Prior to the fresh presidential election, some people made it political disputing its existence. People were given wrong information, no wonder some are still believing misconceptions on the vaccines.
“With the WHO now coming out, it will help us. We need religious leaders to include these messages in their sermons, health workers must utilise community outreaches to disseminate information.”
Simeza also asked President Lazarus Chakwera to deliver a special message to inform people what the WHO has said about the vaccine. He also said chiefs, especially at lower level, should be used in spreading the messages.
On his part, Society of Medical Doctors in Malawi president Dr Victor Mithi said they have been monitoring some people after getting the vaccine, especially health workers and no reports so far of clotting have been reported.
He admitted there are still some people in the country who believe the misconceptions about clotting, even though such issues have been cleared.
On his part, Minister of National Unity and Civic Education Timothy Mtambo said they have adopted the WHO statement in their messages to help people to understand that experts recommend the vaccine.
“We all respect the WHO on health issues, so we are using these messages, telling them to ignore all contrary messages. This is a boost to our awareness,” he said.
The Government of India recently donated to Malawi 50 000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, bringing the number of doses shipped into the country to 410 000.
Cumulatively, by Sunday, 25 589 people had been vaccinated in the country while the cumulative cases stood at 33 270 cases including 1 098 deaths.
Chakwera launched the Covid-19 vaccination on March 11 alongside other leaders, including Vice-President Saulos Chilima, former presidents Joyce Banda and Bakili Muluzi and other leaders with an appeal to Malawians to get the jab.