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Covid vaccine brigade reaches distant areas

With vaccine hesitancy growing, fueled by reports of vaccine-related deaths, governments, public health specialists and funders are leaving no stone unturned to maximize access to vaccines among at-risk groups.

The National Department of Health has joined forces with international innovative health specialists BroadReach Health Development and US Aid for International Development to accelerate vaccinations and tackle hesitant vaccination in rural areas in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

These two provinces have the highest vaccine hesitancy and some of the lowest Covid vaccination prices. KZN has registered 42% and Mpumalanga is at 41%. The BroadReach-led program sent a Covid brigade of more than 350 community workers who spoke the local language, supported by health personnel, into the heart of rural communities.

The intervention targeted four districts – two in the two provinces due to their extremely low vaccination coverage of less than 25% and only 12%.

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These were Ugu and King Cetshwayo (23% vaccination coverage) in KZN, and Gert Sibande (24%) and Nkangala (21%) in Mpumalanga. Certain municipalities in these districts are at greater risk, as Thembisile Hani (in Nkangala) achieves only 19% vaccination coverage and Mfolozi (in King Cetshwayo) achieves 12% vaccination coverage in adults.

The same areas were identified with high rates of HIV, TB and a variety of complicating co-morbidities. Last week, the outreach team reported that they had vaccinated 5,000 hard-to-reach people in these rural districts in the past three weeks.

With the fifth wave still looming, there were fears that Covid infections could worsen among the at-risk communities.

Dhirisha Naidoo of BroadReach Health Development said: “The Covid Brigade is made up of integrated specialist teams that assist with vaccine hesitancy and uptake. Community organizers share information, data collectors collect patient information, nurses and doctors help patients.

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“They will help with practical interventions so that people don’t have to travel, pay for transportation or spend a lot of time on vaccinations. Community educators will help people register, discuss vaccinations in their native language and dispel important misinformation that can deter people,” Naidoo said.

Their strategy was based on the latest research showing that the main barriers to vaccination in rural areas were lack of knowledge of where to go (24%), hard-to-reach vaccine sites (18%) and the high cost of getting there (17 %). †

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