By Tata Mbunwe
A World Bank report published February 22 on Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy in Cameroon charges the Government to employ robust communications campaign strategies to reverse the trend of vaccine hesitancy among the country’s population.
Stating that just 2.5 percent of Cameroonians were vaccinated before the start of the Totalenergies Africa Cup of Nations, World Bank says the government should target religious leaders as well as health workers in communication messages.
Only one million COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in Cameroon as of January 9, when AFCON started, and research has indicated that vaccine hesitancy in Cameroon is driven by concerns about the safety of these vaccines.
“The data showed a high level of hesitancy. About one in two people surveyed were uncertain about getting vaccinated. Hesitancy appears mainly to have been driven by vaccine safety concerns. Health workers had similar hesitancy rates as the general population,” the World Bank said.
“These findings highlighted that simple, clear, targeted communication and leveraging messengers—in particular health experts and religious leaders—can have a large impact on attitudes towards vaccines.”
Cameroon launched the first national COVID-19 vaccination campaign on April 12, 2021, amid a nationwide coronavirus outbreak.
The population was presented with two vaccine choices: the Sinopharm vaccine donated by the Chinese Government; and the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine which came from the UN-led COVAX scheme.
After the campaign, three other nationwide vaccination campaigns have been launched; the most recent one scheduled to run from March 16 – 20, 2022.
Among the over than 10 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses administered worldwide, just over one million of them were administered in Cameroon.
There are reports both from the government and international institutions such as the WHO and the World Bank about high rates of vaccine hesitancy among Cameroonians.
Vaccination has remained timid across the country and most people who turn out for vaccines do so mostly if it is a precondition to obtain a service.
The World Bank stated that Cameroon’s two largest cities – Douala and Yaounde – only witnessed massive vaccination during the just ended AFCON, and this was because people needed to present vaccination cards and negative Covid tests before accessing stadiums where matches were being played.
“… Yaoundé and other major cities in Cameroon witnessed a surge in vaccination, with hundreds of people lining up under the sun to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” stated the World Bank.
“Boxes with PCR tests and vaccination spots lined the entrance to the main Olembe Stadium, with dozens of medical staff registering football fans for their shots so they could get their vaccination certificates and watch a game.”
In other public events in towns like Buea, where the Mount Cameroon Race of Hope recently took place, hundreds of people were allowed into closed environments without presenting vaccination cards or negative covid-19 tests.
There was barely any postal or public message at the event ground encouraging the thousands of people who gathered there to get vaccinated for Covid-19.
Critics say government shares the blame for the vaccine hesitancy in Cameroon, mostly for failing to engage in strategic communication that builds public trust in vaccines. On local radio and TV stations, there are almost no messages on the need Covid-19 vaccination.
In Buea, headquarter of the Southwest Region, people continue to believe Covid-19 is not real. “That thing is a scam from the white man. The vaccination campaigns do not move me in any way,” said Tabe Bradley.