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For nearly two hours, Stella Ngo Ekeya and her sister Marie have been sitting at the entrance to the space set up for the Covid-19 vaccination at the Deido district hospital in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon.
They whisper, do not dare to approach the nurse to register. ” These vaccines have too many consequences, Stella breathes, readjusting the mask that eats part of her face. On social media, it is said that people die after taking them. “
The two young women are ” well stuck “. They want to go abroad and we have them “Asked to take Pfizer They sigh. The nurse explains to them that “For the moment, Cameroon does not have Pfizer”, but that they can find other vaccines like Sinopharm or Johnson & Johnson. ” We will go and think », Avance Stella Ngo Ekeya. Marie, elle, est “Ready to drop the trip ”.
While the Covid-19 officially killed 1,686 people in the country, for 102,499 confirmed contaminations, ” Cameroonians are fleeing this vaccine like the plague ”, laments the director of a hospital located on the outskirts of Douala. Since the launch of the injection campaign on April 12, primarily for health personnel, people with underlying pathologies or those aged 50 and over, only 1.1% of the target population has been fully vaccinated.
Distrust in all segments of society
Although the country relaunched an intensive vaccination campaign in July, nothing helped. At present, 160,000 people are fully vaccinated out of a population of 27.2 million.
According to the Expanded Program on Immunization (PELV), it is the English-speaking region of the South-West – plunged since 2017 with its neighbor to the North-West into a civil war between the Cameroonian army and separatist fighters – which displays the lower vaccination rate.
As of October 22, out of a regional target population of 978,469 people aged 18 and over, only 12,892 had received a first dose, all vaccines combined. And out of 4,880 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines that have expired in the country, the region leads with the highest wastage rate, at 39.9%.
Because mistrust has spread to all segments of society. Kelly, 28, a saleswoman in a food store in Buea, in the South West region, reads various exchanges in the family WhatsApp group: “The Covid-19 renders sterile, kills, swells men’s testicles, destroys body organs, makes them fragile for life …”
“I can’t accept this stuff in my body”
She interrupts her litany to show photos of Nicki Minaj, the American singer with millions of subscribers on social networks. ” She herself, assures Kelly, is against the vaccine. I will never get vaccinated. I don’t want to die or become barren She swears.
At the Nkoulouloun market in Douala, it suffices to bring up the subject to attract a crowd of antivaxes mocking a manufactured vaccine ” too early and not effective “Whereas, for years,” AIDS and malaria are killing us and white people don’t create vaccines ».
Second-hand backpack trader Moïse believes the epidemic is a big lie. ” They said the coronavirus was going to kill a lot of Africans, but nothing happenedhe said. Look at this market, even when we banned gatherings of more than fifty people, we huddled like a can of sardines here. »
Beside him, Delphine, a saleswoman of children’s clothing, nods. Her children in Germany begged her in vain to come for her annual check-up. She does not want to be vaccinated. “I can’t accept this stuff in my body. I am already hypertensive and if I take it, I will die ”, believes this sixty-year-old who contracted Covid-19 a few months ago. Her children may tell her that the vaccine will protect her more, she refuses “Categorically”.
Two months away from the African Cup of Nations
According to Professor Yap Boum, regional representative of Epicenter, the Research and Epidemiology branch of Médecins sans frontières (MSF), “ populations get their information mainly from social networks where some health professionals disseminate contradictory information about vaccines. As a result, there is a hesitation that government communication struggles to counter ».
Cameroon, he thinks, should deploy “More aggressive communication “, Mobilizing well-known personalities so that the information arrives” at all levels of society “. On the occasion of intensive vaccination campaigns – the next one is scheduled for November 17 to 21 -, ” it will also be necessary to go into contact with the populations with vaccinodromes, but also with mobile teams capable of ensuring awareness, screening and vaccination of people who test negative and care for those who test positive », Continues Yap Boom.
Meanwhile, the country faces a disruption of AstraZeneca vaccines, which affects many vaccines who have already received the first dose. In one center, a director scrolls through the figures on his computer: out of more than 270 eligible people, only 4 received the second dose. Contacted, the Ministry of Health did not respond.
Two months before the African Cup of Nations (CAN) to be held in Cameroon, the low vaccination coverage worries. Especially since the resistance to injection is growing. Some public services have tried to make vaccination compulsory.
Faced with the outcry from civil servants, the Bar Association and trade unions, Joseph Le, the Minister of the Civil Service and Administrative Reform, had to clarify that he did not “ there was never any question of forcing state personnel to be vaccinated “. Nevertheless, according to Yap Boom, within the framework of the CAN, “ a health pass is being finalized in Cameroon (…). Massive screening and vaccination will be the two components ».
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“Cameroonians are fleeing the Covid-19 vaccine like the plague”