•Initially, demand for vaccines was high but after vaccinating people who were willing to come to health centres, it became necessary to go out into communities and persuade people to be vaccinated.
•From March 2021, Unicef has been transporting vaccines into Kenya and their distribution to regional depots
The focal point of Kaego informal settlement, in Kisumu town, is the boda boda (motorbike taxi) stop at the junction of the tarmac road and the earth track that leads through the settlement.
Young men sit on their bikes under the shade of a wooden roof, waiting for customers. Washing hangs on clotheslines, criss-crossing the narrow side streets with bright colours. Schools are out and young children run between the houses, rolling old car tyres or playing with homemade balls made from plastic bags and string.
Opposite the boda boda stop, market vendors have set up makeshift stalls selling fish, vegetables and water. Moving among the stalls is community health volunteer (CHV) Daniel Akothee. A respected member of the local community, he is well known for his work to link up families with the nearby health centre. Daniel stops to talk to the vendors and their customers about Covid-19, asking them if they have been vaccinated. If not, he asks their reasons why and gently dispels any myths with the correct information.
Daniel stops at a water point, where heavily pregnant Anne Atieno, 28, is filling yellow jerrycans with water for sale. With support from another market vendor, Prisca, who has already been vaccinated, Daniel convinces Anne to get vaccinated.
“Things have been hard for me financially since Covid-19 arrived,” Anne says. “The price of goods has gone up and it’s become more difficult to provide for my children. I haven’t had the Covid-19 vaccine yet because I was worried it would make me sick and then I cannot work. I depend on my income to get food for my children. But Daniel and Prisca have convinced me that the vaccine will help keep me and my baby safe.”
Unicef has been supporting the Kenyan Government’s response to Covid-19. From March 2021, the children’s organisation has been transporting vaccines into Kenya and supported their distribution to regional depots, including Kisumu. Initially, demand for vaccines was high but after vaccinating people who were willing to come to health centres, it became necessary to go out into communities and persuade people to be vaccinated.
“There are a lot of concerns in the community due to myths about Covid-19 vaccines,” Unicef Health Officer Camlus Odhus explains. “Sometimes this comes from religious or cultural beliefs, or because of rumours and misinformation spread on social media. In other cases, low-income people live far from the health centre and cannot afford to travel there. We also have a lot of casual workers who don’t want to lose a day’s work to get vaccinated.”
Daniel was trained by the UN body and given information to counter the prevailing myths. He went door-to-door through Kaego community, seeking to change minds and behaviours. “I talked to households about what they could do,” he says. “I challenged the misconceptions. For example, boda boda drivers had been telling people that if you get the Covid-19 vaccine, you cannot get pregnant. I told people that this is not true.”
Once Daniel has persuaded someone to get vaccinated, he either takes them to the nearby health centre or brings the vaccine to them. “Kuoyo Health Centre is just 15 minutes’ walk from here,” he says. “But people are busy, so for those who don’t want to go, I coordinate with the health centre. Once I have 30 people ready to be vaccinated, I call them to come to Kaego. The health workers set up a stall in the community and they vaccinate people here.”
Later the same morning, Anne arrives at Kuoyo Health Centre to get her first Covid-19 vaccine shot. The health centre is busy, with mothers and young children waiting on benches in the shade. Before entering the compound, Daniel and Anne wash their hands thoroughly and have their temperature checked. Because she’s seven months pregnant, a nurse also checks Anne’s blood pressure.
Inside the vaccination room, another nurse removes a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine from the fridge. Anne rolls up her sleeve, turns her head away, and closes her eyes as the nurse plunges the syringe into her upper arm. Afterwards, she waits outside for 15 minutes to ensure that she has no immediate side effects.
“I am happy to have been vaccinated,” Anne says afterwards. “It hurt a little bit at first but now I am OK. I’m very glad that my baby is protected.”