Living in crowded and cramped conditions, Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. On August 10, 2021, amid a worrying spike in infections, the Government of Bangladesh launched the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign for refugees over 55 years of age in Kutupalong Refugee Camp. As the first line of health care, volunteers supported by Community Partners International (CPI) and local partner Green Hill mobilized to encourage and support eligible community members in Camps 1W and 4 to take up the vaccine.
“Community members sometimes hear rumors,” explains Osman, a community health volunteer who supported the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. “Some had heard that the vaccine only works for three months and after that people will die. We help to give them full and accurate information about vaccines. After talking with us, most people agree to go for the vaccine.”
As a first step, the volunteers surveyed households in their catchment areas to identify those eligible to receive the vaccine.
“During our survey, we collected the details of people aged 55 and above in each household,” explains Osman. “Soon afterward, we distributed vaccination cards to each eligible person. While distributing the cards, we provided key messaging on COVID-19 vaccination, and let them know which day they could go to be vaccinated. We also met with community leaders to share this information and ask for their support.”
“On vaccination days, we visited each household and reminded eligible individuals about it. For those who had difficulty walking, we accompanied them and arranged for transportation to the health facility.”
Thanks to the efforts of the volunteers, the rollout of the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in their catchment areas was hugely successful. Out of 828 eligible individuals, 807 (97%) received the first dose of the vaccine. Of the 21 who did not receive the vaccine, only two strongly refused. The others were prevented by various factors including hospitalization, illness, doctor’s advice, and absence.
Ali, 70, was one of the eligible community members who opted to take up the vaccine. “I came to be vaccinated because Osman explained that it will help to protect me. I want to be safe and healthy,” he said. “Osman accompanied me to the health center. I didn’t feel any pain when I received the vaccine and now I feel fine.”
Asked what advice he would give to others about COVID-19 vaccination, Ali was adamant. “I would advise them to take the vaccine as I did. I think we should take it so that we can be safe from COVID-19.”
The first phase of the vaccination campaign ended on August 23. The next phase will begin in mid-September to deliver the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for over-55’s. The volunteers supported by Community Partners International and Green Hill will be looking to repeat their success from the first phase. ”We are helping to change attitudes towards vaccination in the Rohingya community through our outreach,” explains Osman. “They respect us and we support them.”