Cameroon Tackling Vaccine Hesitancy on the Football Field

During the Africa Cup of Nations, the capital of Yaoundé and other major cities in Cameroon witnessed a surge in vaccination, with hundreds of people lining up under the sun to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Many Cameroonians decided to get vaccinated against COVID-19 after their government made it mandatory for access to stadiums during the Africa Cup; Only one million doses had gone into the arms of Cameroonian people before the Cup—just 2.5% of the population, with high vaccine hesitancy driven by vaccine safety concerns; The Cameroon COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Project facilitates vaccine deployment of 3.5 million doses through the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust.During the Africa Cup of Nations, the capital of Yaoundé and other major cities in Cameroon witnessed a surge in vaccination, with hundreds of people lining up under the sun to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Boxes with PCR tests and vaccination spots lined the entrance to the main Olembe Stadium, with dozens of medical staff registering football fans for their shots so they could get their vaccination certificates and watch a game.After many delays and adjustments due to the pandemic, special measures had to be put in place to avoid another postponement of the tournament and, more importantly, an increase of COVID-19 cases among the teams, the fans, the visitors, and the population as a whole. And what bigger incentive than to make access to the stadium only available to vaccinated people?“We have all been waiting for this tournament and, now that it’s here, nothing will stop me from supporting our indomitable Lions and winning our 6th star”, said Ousmanou, who is 33 years old and a strong supporter of the Cameroonian national football team. “And if I have to be vaccinated to get to the stadium, I will.” Many Cameroonians like Ousmanou decided to get vaccinated against COVID-19 only after the government made it mandatory to access the stadiums.Let’s address hesitancy to score more goalsWhile more than 10 billion doses of vaccines have been administered in countries around the world, only a little over one million doses have gone into the arms of Cameroonian people—just 2.5% of the total population. A recent World Bank survey on vaccine hesitancy was piloted in Cameroon to better understand the motivations of why many people in the country remained hesitant.The data showed a high level of hesitancy. About one in two people surveyed were uncertain about getting vaccinated. Hesitancy appears mainly to have been driven by vaccine safety concerns. Health workers had similar hesitancy rates as the general population. These findings highlighted that simple, clear, targeted communication, and leveraging messengers—in particular health experts and religious leaders—can have a large impact on attitudes towards vaccines. The country took specific measures and introduced a health pass, needed as proof of vaccination, to access the different stadiums during the Africa Cup. The day of the opening game, Cameroon vs Burkina Faso, the Ministry of Health mobilized health workers to administer about 60,000 tests and vaccinate all those spectators who asked to be vaccinated in just three hours at the Olembe site alone. Yet, vaccine take up will depend on the country continuing to invest in a robust communications campaign with all players, including health experts, as well as traditional and religious leaders, all aiming for the same goal. As part of the COVID-19 response, the World Bank is supporting Cameroon to strengthen health systems through the Cameroon COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Project by strengthening public health preparedness, strengthening the roll-out of the campaign, and facilitating vaccine deployment and procurement of 3.5 million doses through the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust chaired by the African Union, and in coordination with other partners. Just as with football, it takes a team to beat the pandemic.*Source The World Bank Group

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