On March 3, 2021, when over 800,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived at Khartoum International Airport, Sudan became the first country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility. But as UNICEF knows, vaccines can't work unless the public accepts them.
To bring people around in the Khartoum localities of Ombada, Sharg-e-nile and Jabal Aulia where residents were resistant, UNICEF has reactivated local committees that have promoted past immunization campaigns.
Attendees at one of the first committee meetings in Sharg-e-nile included religious leaders, area residents and a local youth club leader who pledged to mobilize his 50 members to convince their older relatives to get vaccinated. Sudan Ministry of Health and UNICEF experts were also on hand to provide the detailed information needed to address public misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines.
Armed with all they need to make the case, local immunization boosters have since fanned out, beginning by convincing their families to get vaccinated and using their own social media accounts to educate the people in their networks. Then widening the circle, they have been traveling in vans and on foot — using megaphones and knocking on doors — to get the word out that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and free. Sudan's COVID-19 ambassadors are also staying in close touch with one another, using WhatsApp groups to share successful tactics, community feedback and updates on pockets of resistance.
Sudan's vaccine trust builders have the know-how and tactical skills to win over the elderly and people with preexisting conditions who are most threatened by COVID-19. As UNICEF Communication for Development Specialist Sehrish Ali cheered on those who gathered at the Sharg-e-nile meeting, she expressed the most compelling argument of all: “The vaccine is our only hope!”
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Top photo: In Sudan, UNICEF-trained health promoters travel by van to reach people in busy public places with messages about COVID-19 vaccines — their availability, safety and effectiveness, along with who is eligible for vaccination and where vaccine doses are available. © UNICEF/UN0458311/Sabir