By Emily Bancroft, President, VillageReach
I never thought I’d be so excited by pictures of boxes being unloaded from airplanes. When I saw the photos come streaming across social media this week, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. The pallets being wheeled onto the tarmac meant that COVID-19 vaccines had arrived in Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi and many other African countries. As government officials and partners began to unpack the containers, we all knew the hard work was just beginning.
Over the last year, as the scientific community quickly mobilized to develop, test and produce multiple effective vaccines, the focus for VillageReach has been protecting health workers and communities against the virus. As an organization dedicated to the delivery of vaccines, medicines, supplies and information, COVID-19 vaccine delivery has been constantly on our minds. We participated in the Country Readiness and Delivery working group of the vaccine pillar of the Access to COVID Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) to help link global-level plans with country efforts.
We are still concerned about critical gaps in the resources available to support vaccine distribution across the continent. Despite some significant commitments, we are still coming up short in the financing of the systems that deliver, which if not addressed could lead to delays in getting frontline workers and other high-risk populations vaccinated– something we saw firsthand when vaccines started rolling out locally and across the U.S.
We are encouraged with what we are seeing in the countries where we work as we support the government with the planning, data systems, communications and transportation networks needed to get vaccines in arms as quickly as possible.
In DRC, this means supporting the planning and delivery of vaccines in rural provinces and combatting vaccine misinformation so communities can have consistent and reliable updates.
In Mozambique, this means encouraging the government to work with trusted partners for transportation and real-time data visibility to ensure vaccines get reliably from regional hubs to remote communities.
In Côte d’Ivoire, this means co-creating communication systems that can monitor and respond to COVID-related misinformation.
In Malawi, this means supporting the government’s national COVID-19 communication strategy, highlighting digital platforms to increase community engagement and reduce vaccine hesitancy, as well as supporting nationwide vaccine delivery.
In Liberia, this means ensuring community health workers, who are a critical part of the frontline COVID-19 response, are also at the front of the line to be vaccinated.
The first health worker in Washington State was vaccinated 80 days ago, yet vaccines are just arriving in sub-Saharan Africa. Only merely days ago did the first health worker get a shot. They are the heroes of this pandemic and we can’t fail them now — they’ve waited long enough.
So yes, I am relieved vaccines have arrived, and yes, VillageReach will continue to work tirelessly until everyone has equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine. But we still have a long road ahead of us to reach #VaccinEquity on World Health Day, April 7. Frontline health care workers have all had our backs during this past year — let’s make sure that we have theirs now.