The vaccine is safe. It will protect my children and me from COVID-19.
Joy Nimaya is a 22-year-old mother of three and a health promoter for World Vision. Health promoters are community volunteers who act as a bridge between the community they live in and World Vision field staff. They help to identify the things standing in the way of vaccination in their communities and address them through awareness and education.
Part of Joy’s role as a health promoter is to make house calls in her community. She checks in on women and talks them through the importance of vaccination for their families. She explains, “We discuss about the coronavirus, the different types of the vaccine, number of doses and the importance of getting vaccinated.”
When the AstraZeneca vaccine was introduced in South Sudan, pregnant and lactating women weren’t included in the vaccine rollout. The most common question that came up for Joy was why pregnant and breastfeeding mothers were excluded. Joy was breastfeeding at the time, and empathised with the mothers she met with.
She says, “Often, I was asked if I am vaccinated during my daily sessions. At that time, breastfeeding mothers were not included [though].”
But this directive changed when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine became available. Joy was the first breastfeeding mother in her community to be vaccinated.
I took vaccine as soon as my supervisors told me that the vaccine is available for everyone above 18 years old, and is safe even for breastfeeding and pregnant mothers.
South Sudan’s Ministry of Health data reveals that women are much more likely to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, probably because they trust that it is safest for their families. The proportion of women vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson is 46.4%, compared to 25.8% women with AstraZeneca in the first and second phases of the vaccine introduction.
Many things still stand in the way of women in South Sudan receiving the vaccine. Women who live in rural areas are much less likely to receive accurate information about the vaccine, and much less likely to know that it is available to them.
That’s why health promoters like Joy are so important. Because of them, women with a lack of access to accurate information are being reached by a trusted community member with the tools to share about the safety and availability of vaccines. Joy is a living breathing example of the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine for breastfeeding mothers and others.
There is power in Joy’s personal testimony and she is proud to share her story of protecting herself and her loved ones with her community.