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Funding boost for cities to reach COVID-19 vaccine skeptics and vulnerable

by Kim Harrisberg | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 6 May 2021 15:59 GMT

Health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr receives a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Dakar, Senegal February 23, 2021. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

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Bloomberg Philanthropies is giving 18 cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America grants to creatively boost vaccine confidence and reach high-risk groups

By Kim Harrisberg

JOHANNESBURG, May 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From sky banners in Cape Town to information campaigns led by transgender people in Rio de Janeiro, new funding announced on Thursday will help 18 cities around the world boost COVID-19 vaccine confidence and reach vulnerable groups.

The 18 African, Asian and Latin American countries will each receive $50,000 from the charity Bloomberg Philanthropies to creatively tackle misinformation and logistical bottlenecks in a bid to get more people vaccinated and save lives.

"We simply will not end the pandemic anywhere until we end it everywhere," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) which has partnered with Bloomberg Philanthropies to support the cities.

"These grants will support city leaders to reach some of the most vulnerable groups with vaccines," he said in a statement.

From Malawi to the United States, scepticism about the safety and necessity of COVID-19 vaccines has slowed their uptake, which health experts say could prolong a pandemic that has already killed more than 3.3 million people worldwide.

Warnings about possible rare blood clots, the rubbishing of vaccines by some leaders and concerns about the speed of development have all slowed the rollout of the relatively small number of doses that many countries have battled to procure.

Regulators and vaccine developers around the world have repeatedly said speed of vaccine development has not compromised vaccine safety.

Inoculations in developing countries are lagging behind Europe and North America, which have snapped up most of the available doses, while the COVAX programme to supply vaccines to poorer countries has struggled to get enough stocks.

Only 1% of the 1.2 billion vaccine doses that have been administered globally have been in Africa - the lowest rate in the world, according to the WHO.

LOCAL VOICES

From Rwanda's Kigali to Colombia's Cali to India's Bengaluru, the 18 cities will target marginalised groups - including migrants, homeless, elderly and transgender people - to ensure they access information about COVID-19 vaccines.

"We've seen the power of working with trusted local voices to share COVID safety messages with vulnerable people earlier in the pandemic," said Dan Plato, executive mayor of Cape Town.

"We plan to build on those efforts to encourage vaccination for all," he said, adding that providing people with reliable information would allow them to make well-informed decisions.

Alongside mobile billboards, banners towed by planes and radio programmes, Cape Town will work wiCAMBth community leaders to hold socially distanced consultations to try to reach some 530,000 migrants and homeless people in the city.

Isolated populations are a key focus. Argentina's Buenos Aires plans to train formerly homeless people to become "Peer Champions", while trans people will lead communication teams to reach this vulnerable group in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro.

For others, logistical solutions are important. Outdated cooler boxes will be replaced with state-of-the-art cold storage equipment in Cambodia's Phnom Penh to ensure safe vaccine delivery during the rainy season when road travel is slower.

"The path to widespread vaccination is complex and requires detailed planning ... and logistics support by urban leaders and their staff," said Jose Luis Castro, head of Vital Strategies, a global health organisation involved in the $900,000 initiative.

Related stories:

Vaccine hesitancy slows Africa's COVID-19 inoculation drive

Calls to tackle vaccine hesitancy as African Union drops AstraZeneca

Companies, not poor, get most COVID-19 aid in developing world, says study    

(Reporting by Kim @KimHarrisberg; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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