The campaign, gone slowly so far, should soon accelerate thanks to the arrival of 1.2 million new doses
At the launch of the COVAX campaign in April 2020, fake news and disinformation about vaccines were rampant in Yemen. “Before attending an INTERSOS awareness session, I thought vaccines caused infertility,” explains Mohammed, 60, from Bagiar in the Radfan district. “After being informed correctly, I realised it was not true and immediately went to the vaccination center where I received the first dose.”
Mohammed’s experience testifies to the importance of the awareness and information campaign on vaccines but also of population’s mobilisation, activities that both represent the first phase of INTERSOS’ intervention in support of the COVAX vaccination campaign. Thanks to a network of 20 community volunteers, divided into the five districts of Al-Magatira, Al-Milah, Al-Mudaraba wa Al-Ara, Radfan, Tuban, it was possible to reach 2,551 people, inform them about the risks of Covid-19 and dispel doubts and fears about vaccination, as well as giving fundamental logistical information on where to get the vaccine.
The sustainability and success of awareness-raising activities depend on the availability of vaccines and on coordination with the Ministry of Public Health and Population, the local authority responsible for administration. The lack of vaccines, in fact, was an obstacle to the implementation of the campaign in the country, which was difficult and intermittent. Once they arrived in the country, storing the doses proved to be an additional difficulty and delayed the planning of activities.
Since November 18, INTERSOS staff has been supporting the direct administration of vaccines, ranging from the recruitment and training of a local medical team of 10 people, to the management of the cold chain that allows for the doses available to be properly stored. INTERSOS supports the administration in two vaccination centers in the South of the country indicated by the Ministry of Public Health and Population, the Radfan District Hospital and the Al-Wahat District Hospital, both in the state of Lahj. The vaccination campaign started slowly: by December 20, fewer than one million doses had arrived across the country, and our staff began administering the first dose to around 2,500 people. On December 22nd, however, 1.2 million doses arrived which will allow an acceleration in the vaccination campaign.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen
The dramatic context in which INTERSOS’ intervention takes place, in what is currently the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world, should not be underestimated. 17 million people are in need of medical assistance, with only 50% of health facilities functioning and a lack of medical personnel now chronic. Despite the commitment to administering vaccines, to date, a too low percentage of people have been vaccinated.
Yemen, like the majority of the most disadvantaged countries in the world, is able to bring about a vaccination campaign mainly through the COVAX platform, created with the aim of providing an equitable distribution of vaccines. As Andrea Accardi, INTERSOS COVAX Task Force coordinator, underlined several times, the need for a suspension of patents is evident, to facilitate an increase in the production of vaccines, diversification by more manufacturers and in different areas of the world. It is also necessary to increase the funds available to implement the vaccination campaign. Only in this way will it be possible to close a disparity in the right to health which is all the more unacceptable the simpler the solutions.
In addition, the official data available on the spread of Covid-19 infection partially report the actual incidence of the virus on the population due to the limited possibilities of tracing and the difficulty of accessing medical assistance in the country. This is the dramatic situation in which more than seven years of conflict have thrown Yemen, with a collapsing health system where INTERSOS support is urgent and necessary.