Coronavirus: Race against time to boost COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Somalia

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While Somalia witnesses yet another spike in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, on 12 August 2021, the Federal Government of Somalia received a consignment of 302 400 doses of Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccines, donated by the United States of America through the COVAX Facility. The COVAX Facility is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO), alongside the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

WHO is providing technical support to the federal and state ministries of health for the successful roll out of COVID-19 vaccines across the country along with its key partners, notably UNICEF.

“In this tight race against time, we are working with the Government of Somalia to bring this vaccination programme against COVID-19 to a speed and scale so that most of the high-risk populations are vaccinated,” said Dr Mamunur Rahman Malik, WHO Representative to Somalia. “We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to ensure vaccines reach all populations equitably, though, no matter where they live. It is only with support from donors such as the Government of the United States of America that will we be able to reach all eligible people, particularly vulnerable populations and those living in difficult-to-reach locations.”

WHO works closely with partners such as UNICEF for the safe storage of vaccines and community engagement, and the World Food Programme (WFP) for the delivery of vaccines and other life-saving equipment to far-flung areas which remain largely inaccessible by road.

Current status

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, 16 103 laboratory-confirmed cases, including 864 deaths, have been reported in Somalia. So far, the COVID-19 vaccination uptake among the general population remains low. Less than 1% of the population in the country have so far been fully vaccinated in Somalia: as of 16 August 2021, only 93 516 Somalis have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 187 578 people have received their first dose. This low uptake resulted partly from the unpredictable supply of vaccines in Somalia and partly from the fact that agencies like WHO and UNICEF have faced financial constraints to support the operational cost for the roll out of vaccines. As the supply situations improve and many donors, including GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, have pledged funding for the operational cost, the situation looks promising for improving the uptake of vaccines.

With the arrival of these single-shot vaccines, the Federal Government, with support from WHO, UNICEF and other partners, will organize both fixed and outreach posts to vaccinate more high-risk people. Another strategy which the Government is contemplating with these single-shot vaccines is to cover the nomads and internally displaced population. Approximately 26% of the country’s population who are nomadic and an estimated 2.6 million people who are internally displaced in the country can benefit from this vaccination campaign, which is expected to kick off in the coming days.

Additionally, considering that 75% of its population is under 30 years of age, the recent decision of the Government to include all Somalis aged above 18 years in the COVID-19 vaccination programme is also expected to increase the uptake using these newly arrived single-shot vaccines.

Use of digital innovations for immunization

From the onset of the arrival of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, with support from WHO, Somalia has used a mobile telephone-based electronic registration system to register people being vaccinated. Known as CommCare, and first developed by the software company Dimagi, this system has enabled frontline health workers who manage vaccination posts to be efficient and effective in capturing essential information about vaccines.

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