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New Study Shows High Vaccine Acceptance Among Sierra Leoneans

Covid-19 KAP 3 report

By Kemo Cham

The majority of Sierra Leoneans will take a Covid-19 vaccination when it is available, a new report has revealed.

The latest edition of the Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) study by the NGO FOCUS 1000 was unveiled last week, Thursday, March 25. It’s the third version of the KAP study by the NGO since the pandemic began in Sierra Leone in March 2020.

The survey focused on five main issues: Threat perceptions about Covid; vaccination acceptance; home-based care for people who contract the virus; prevention knowledge; and prevention practices.

According to Paul Sengeh, Director of Research at FOCUS 1000, some 7, 200 respondents were sampled in the study that cuts across all 16 districts of the country.

Nearly half of all respondents (46 percent) were aware of the Covid-19 vaccines, and 72 percent, three-fourth of all the respondents, said they were willing to take the vaccine, the findings revealed.

However, for the majority of those interviewed and who said they aware of the vaccines, they were found to have little knowledge about it, and they are calling for assurance of its safety by the government. Some people would be more inclined to take the vaccine if their leaders take it first, their study shows.

The report comes about two weeks after the National Covid-19 Response Center (NaCOVERC) rolled out its ongoing national vaccination programme in response to the pandemic. As of March 25, over 6, 000 people had been vaccinated, according to Dr Tom Sesay, Manager of the Expanded Programme on Immunization at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS), whose office is overseeing the Covid-19 vaccination exercise.

The vaccination programme was kick-started with a ‘Symbolic launch on March 15, 2021, at State House, where President Julius Maada Bio took the lead by taking the first jab. Over a hundred top government and influential public officials were targeted for vaccination as part of that event, from Vice President Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, cabinet ministers, to lawmakers; even leading politicians, including members of the main opposition APC, were given the jab.

Dr Sesay, while speaking at the Launch of the KAP study last week, said the high acceptance rate revealed by the study reflected the work done by the government.

“That is very encouraging,” the EPI boss said while urging the target population to take the vaccine, assuring its safety.

The KAP studies on Covid-19 was conducted by FOCUS 1000 with technical support from the MoHS and technical and financial support from the Irish Aid. Mr Mohamed Bailor Jalloh, Chief Executive Officer of FOCUS 1000, who chaired the ceremony held at the conference hall of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) headquarters in Freetown, said the study will be key in the country’s effort to ending the pandemic.

This is the latest of three KAP studies done by the NGO on Covid.

“We did not just look at the findings, we also looked at the recommendations, to help the government shape its messaging for the desired impact,” Jalloh said at the event.

Other crucial findings by the KAP 3 include the majority of people (76 percent) perceived some risks of contracting the virus. These people also reported that they most frequently did not practice social distancing.

There was also a low (30 percent) willingness of people to take care of sick family members at home who are suspected of having Covid-19. The willingness becomes smaller when the sick family member is confirmed to have the virus.

“Unwillingness to provide care at home was driven by their worry about getting infected, lack of protective equipment/supplies, and lack of knowledge on how to stay safe,” wrote the authors of the report.

Another good news revealed by the study is the high level of prevention knowledge. Nearly everyone knew how to properly wear a facemask and knew that its regular use in public prevents Covid-19, the study shows. Also, nearly everyone (98 percent) reported one or more behavioural changes due to Covid-19.

However, knowledge on how to correctly practice social distancing varied by region, with respondents in the Western Area (Freetown and its environs) demonstrating the lowest knowledge to maintain a distance of six feet, as recommended by health experts.

Harold Thomas, Risk Communications Lead at the NaCOVERC, said the findings of the KAP 3 revealed a thin line between knowledge and practice. Mr Thomas, in his statement at the event, stressed the NaCOVRC’s emphasis on the use of facemask and social distancing in efforts to prevent transmission of the virus.

Officials at FOCUS 1000 hope that the study will catalyze to end transmission of the virus, given the many pointers it has about areas that need looking at by the authorities.

FOCUS, established in 2012, was originally focused on advocacy and research on health care, particularly maternal and infant health.

The NGO was instrumental in the fight against the 2014-2016 West African Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. Thanks to its first KAP study on Ebola in 2014, the Sierra Leone government re-strategise its response, leading to wider community acceptance of measures and the eventual ending of the transmission of the epidemic that ended up claiming about 4000 lives.  

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