In the heart of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, stands the hundred-year-old Connaught Hospital, the principal adult referral hospital in the country. Just in front of its imposing front doors stands the COVID-19 vaccine station, which is the heart of Sierra Leone’s vaccine roll-out. Nurse Fatmata Kamara is one of the many nurses manning the desks.

COVID-19 IS REAL. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is different from Ebola but it is as real as Ebola.

The first roll-out of vaccines, which prioritised essential and health workers as well as people above 40 years of age, took place in March 2021. It was later expanded: according to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MOHS) over 145,000 people in Sierra Leone have taken their first dose and 88,870 are fully vaccinated as of 28th June 2021. 

Fatmata, what has the response to the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine been at the hospital?

As health workers, we were overjoyed as we have seen and treated many COVID-19 patients. We recognise that, in a relatively short period, vaccinations will alleviate the burden on the hospital. With the general public, while there continues to be some fear mainly due to ignorance, we have had great turnout for vaccinations in the past few months. Every day we see at least 50 vaccine takers; some days it reaches 150 in a day!

What vaccines are available to people in Sierra Leone?

When the vaccine roll-out first started in March 2021, with only certain groups of people allowed to take it, we were offering AstraZeneca. Without access to additional doses of the AstraZeneca, we are also now offering Sinopharm.

Having administered the vaccine for the past five months, what have been your general observations?

When we first started the roll-out, we, unfortunately, had to turn away many young people in their twenties and thirties because of the focus on essential workers. In the last 2 months, we have seen more people over the age of 60 coming in. I hope that this means they are more aware of COVID-19 and are not listening to the misguided. Hopefully, it will also encourage the younger generations to come back for the vaccine when it is available for them. We are constantly reinforcing the fact that the vaccine is safe. I have had both doses of the vaccine myself and I didn’t have any out-of-the-ordinary side effects. I just had a slight headache. 

In Sierra Leone, more men seem to be contracting COVID-19 than women. Has this had any effect on the demographic who come for the vaccine?

Yes – to an extent. More men have definitely been coming to take the vaccine because interestingly enough, some women are under the impression that the vaccine will render them infertile. Of course, we are working to educate women while also encouraging men to come with their partners. 

What is your advice to Sierra Leoneans? 

COVID-19 IS REAL. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is different from Ebola but it is as real as Ebola. Please come and take the vaccine!  

* Name changed

TOPICS: COVAXCountry storiesCOVID-19

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