Liberia: Citizens Express Doubts, Raise Safety Concerns as Government Roll Out COVID-19 Vaccine
MONROVIA – The Minister of Health, Dr. Wilhemina Jallah on Thursday led a handful of government officials for the first shot of covid-19 vaccine but it appears that it would take more than that to boost the public’s confidence in turning up for the vaccine – some residents of Monrovia have vowed to snub the vaccine.
By Willie N. Tokpha and J. H. Webster Clayeh
In addition to the Health Minister, Education Minister, Dr. Ansu Sonii, Information Minister Ledgerhood Rennie, Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Francis Kateh, Grand Kru Senator Numenee Bartekwa and Cultural Ambassador Juli Endee were among prominent citizens who receive the first shot on Thursday.
Giving out the first shots of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday marked the official rollout of the vaccine through the COVAX Initiative.
The campaign is a joint partnership among the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, UNICEF, USAID, African Union, and GAVI are partnering with the Ministry of Health to begin immunization of its citizens across the country.
Dr. Jallah assured the public that the benefit of the AstraZeneca vaccines outweighs its risks.
She said the vaccine is a critical new tool in the battle against the coronavirus which has claimed the lives of 2.28 million people globally.
“Today, we have the opportunity to receive the vaccine to be safe. I hope everyone is warming up to take their vaccine,” Minister Jallah said.
“We are confident to say that the vaccines are safe and encouraging Liberians from all walks of life to be vaccinated because of all of the vaccines were tested in state of the art laboratories, tried in thousands of renowned clinics and approved by WHO.”
Minister Jallah added that the vaccine will be firstly administered to healthcare workers, followed by people who are in the age range of 60 and above, then people who are exposed through other services, to include police, soldiers, firefighters, marketers and international partners who are in Liberia and exposed as well.
The Minister of Health stressed that COVID-19 does not affect a particular group of individuals, as such, it is important for everyone to take the vaccine.
Doubts in the public
Despite these encouragements from the Health Minister, some residents of Monrovia from all walks of life do not share the same confidence on the safety of the vaccine.
Some in an interview with FrontPageAfrica say they would only be convinced on the safety of the vaccine when they see President George Weah, First Lady Clar Weah and members of the First Family receiving their own dose of the shot.
Doris Gaye, a petty trader on Randall Street said, “I will not take the coronavirus vaccine. God will prevent me and my family. I do not trust the vaccine. I do not trust anybody. Even when President Weah, his Vice President and all the big people in this country take the coronavirus vaccine, I and my family will not take it. I know God will protect me and my family and nothing will happen to us.”
She lamented that the government failed on its promise to supply food and other supplies during the pandemic.
“They told us they were bringing food for us but the food they said they were bringing no head, no tail; then I should come to take coronavirus vaccine? God will protect me and my children. Whether the virus is in this country or not I do not know. So, I cannot take the coronavirus vaccine.”
Samuel Koryoa, Vender at Rally Town Market also said:
“For me, I do not think I am prepared to take the vaccine. The first thing I need to understand which type of product is this vaccine. Because of what I have learned from international news, the vaccine is not yet 100 percent safe.
Even if the President and his officials take the vaccine, I want the scientific proof, wherein the producer of this vaccine can assure that yes, this vaccine is 100 percent safe like the Polio vaccine, the Yellow Fever vaccine – all of those are safe for human consumption. So, until the coronavirus vaccine can reach that process, I will not take it.”
Siaffa Kannah, Resident of Clara Town still holds doubt on the existence of coronavirus in Liberia. He says the government has not convinced him enough to believe the existence of the virus in the country and therefore, he sees the announcement of COVID-19 in the country as a scheme.
Eric S. Myers, an alumna of the University of Liberia told FrontPageAfrica: “It [The vaccine] is good but I want the government officials to be the first to take the coronavirus vaccine. They got to be the first to test it before the citizens. You cannot risk any citizen’s life, they got to test it first.
“In other countries, people are refusing to take the vaccine, so if our government officials can be the first to take the vaccine then it would not be bad for me to take it. Anything below that, I will not take the vaccine.
“President Weah and his officials should lead by example. Other countries’ leaders were the first to take the vaccine and so in Liberia, we will not be used as scapegoat. They brought the vaccine; they said the vaccine is good. So, inasmuch it is good, they got to be the first to try it.”
Stubblefield Johnson, a resident of Barnesville shared a different opinion. He believes that the vaccine is adequate and safe and would therefore encourage anyone to get a shot for their own safety.
He said, “As long as other people around the world are taking the vaccine, they are not better than me, yes I will take the vaccine and I am going to tell other people especially our older people that the vaccine is good so that they can take it to prevent themselves from the coronavirus.
If it was the vaccine that caused harm, we were going to hear it. But other big people in the world have taken and there is no harm. So, since the vaccine is in Liberia now, I know our government officials will take it and so I am going to take the coronavirus vaccine.”
Where to Get Vaccinated
Four private health facilities including SOS health center, St. Joseph Catholic Hospital Center, UN Health Center and the ELWA Hospital, while the public health facilities are James David Memorial Health Center (JDJ), 14-Military Hospital, Redemption Hospital and the John F. Kennedy Hospital would be administering the AstraZeneca vaccine.
At the same time, she said the vaccine will be administered to 10 persons at a time.
The House Committee Chair on Health, Joseph Y. Sonwarbi said it is impossible for government to bring in a vaccine to Liberia when it is not safe.
He said the vaccine is the most effective way of preventing diseases.
According to him, while the vaccine is important for those at risk, it was equally important that awareness messages on its importance be spread across the hinterland as a means of effectively eradicating the COVID-19.
The UK Ambassador to Liberia Neil Bradley said the vaccination process is important because COVID-19 has not just impacted Liberia alone negatively, but the world.
“You are always safe from this virus when we are all safe. No one country can fight it alone, therefore, we are in it together,” Ambassador Bradley said.
He further stated that because of its importance, the UK has seen it necessary that the vaccination exercise financially supported.