Accra – Ghana, the first country in the world to receive COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility, kicked off its vaccination drive on 1 March 2021, making its rollout among the longest-running in Africa. Despite the longevity of its vaccination programme, by the beginning of 2022, less than half of the target population of 20 million people had received at least one vaccine dose and only about 13% were fully vaccinated.
To improve COVID-19 vaccine uptake, in February 2022, Ghana instituted its first National COVID-19 Vaccination Day, building firmly on the foundation of previous National Immunization Days for Polio. The first of the mass vaccination campaigns for COVID-19, dubbed “Operation 2.5 million doses in 5 days” ran from 2 to 6 February. The second campaign kicked off this week, to coincide with African Vaccination Week. The campaign will run until the first week of May, leveraging the commemoration of Child Health Promotion Week, an annual event to bring child health into the spotlight, including childhood immunization.
This is not the first time routine immunization is being run in conjunction with COVID-19 vaccination in Ghana. In response to the yellow fever outbreak confirmed in November 2021, the country integrated COVID-19 vaccination with yellow fever campaigns in December. Vaccination outreach teams carried the Yellow Fever and COVID-19 vaccines and administered both to eligible people.
COVID-19 vaccination days have led to an increase in doses administered from 9.7 million at the end of January to 13 million at the end of March, representing a 34% increase in the cumulative number of doses.
In the first campaign, over 80% of the set target was met, with around 2 million doses administered. The country aims to administer 2.3 million COVID-19 vaccines by the end of its second campaign.
The mass vaccination campaign included a strong element of risk communication and community engagement, to counter low-risk perception and circulating misinformation on COVID-19 vaccines in communities.
“I was always afraid that the vaccine would cause some damage to my system,” says Jacob Appenteng, from Brekusu, a town near the capital Accra. “But as I kept hearing the announcements in my community and saw how people around me were taking the vaccine, when it came to our neighbourhood, I decided to also go for it.”
Prior to the launch of the campaign, the country undertook several advocacy, communication, and social mobilization activities to generate demand for the vaccine. Information on COVID-19 disease, public health and safety measures such as wearing of face masks, good hand hygiene and physical distancing, and the benefits of taking the COVID-19 vaccine was made available at community information centres and through public address systems in communities. Talk shows were held on radio and television, and information about the campaign was provided at churches and mosques by religious leaders.
“On the first day of the campaign, we did not record very good numbers because people were still hesitant,” says Nancy Ampah, a community health nurse in the Nsawam-Adoagyire Municipality of Ghana’s Eastern Region. “But turnout on the subsequent days was high. Even those who took their jabs on the first day became advocates.”
Ghana is one of the 10 countries earmarked for financial and technical support from the global COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership, a multi-partner initiative which includes World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, set up to help countries achieve their overall vaccination targets, particularly in high-priority groups.
The partnership’s focus in Ghana is to unlock funding to close the gap for COVID-19 vaccine operations, including its mass vaccination campaigns, that runs into tens of millions. The partnership has already mobilized funding from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for technical assistance and additional funding is in the pipeline from the World Bank.
“The support from WHO and its partners is timely because the country is poised for success,” says Dr Francis Kasolo, WHO Representative in Ghana. “High vaccination coverage in Ghana will significantly limit transmission chains and in so doing protect communities from COVID-19 infection,” he adds.