In an effort to counter typhoid, a disease said to be endemic in Liberia with more than 7,400 cases annually, the government has introduced a vaccine for the first time this month in its regular child inoculations, according to Adolphus Clarke, the country’s Program Manager for National Immunization at the Ministry of Health.
“Typhoid has become a disease of concern. If you go to a hospital you are either diagnosed with typhoid or malaria,” says Clarke, adding that this new vaccination campaign is targeting more than one million children between nine months and 14 years old.
He tells RFI statistics show that the majority of the country’s typhoid cases are among children under 15 years of age.
Typhoid is a bacterial infection that can spread throughout the body and be fatal if not treated promptly.
Once the ministry of health hits its target 1.9 million children, they will be going throughout the country to ensure that the rest of the age group is covered by the vaccine.
“There will be a mop-up exercise that will last for three to four days to ensure that we are able to capture and cover everyone that we are targeting in Liberia,” he says.
According to Clarke, preliminary data shows that a little more than 557,890 children under 14 years of age have been vaccinated since the launch of the vaccine campaign on 6 April.
Resistance from community members
Some parents, however, do not feel the need to have their children vaccinated, like Teresa Wilson, 35, a resident of central Monrovia, one of a few skeptical parents.
“I cannot allow my children to take the vaccine because I don’t have enough information. Yesterday we heard the government giving people Covid-19 vaccine, then today we are hearing about typhoid vaccines,” she says.
She fears that the government could be administering the Covid-19 vaccine under the disguise of typhoid vaccine but Clarke disagrees.
Brendalyn Saah, a 26-year old nurse is assigned in West Point, Liberia’s biggest slum, to administer the typhoid vaccine.
She attributes the low turnout during the first two days of the vaccination exercise to lack of appropriate awareness among Liberians.
“We experienced lots of resistance initially but as of now, parents are allowing their children to be vaccinated,” she told RFI during an interview.
Vaccine program manager Clarke has appealed to parents to take the time to understand what the vaccine is and ensure their children are vaccinated to avoid contracting the disease.
At the same time, Clarke says negotiations are underway to bring in the typhoid vaccine for adults, too.
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“Once we submit the application and get approval, we will notify the general public and the vaccine will be available,” Clarke says.
According to Dr. Kathleen Neuzil, the Director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the US, the vaccine is safe and has no major negative side effects.
“The main side effect is a sore arm– a child may have some arm pain, but it is usually done within a day or two,” says Neuzil, who is also director of the Typhoid Vaccine Acceleration Consortium.
“It’s very rare for this vaccine to even cause fever, so it’s a well-tolerated vaccine,” she said via zoom interview with RFI.
Neuzil commends Liberia for prioritizing children’s health for the typhoid vaccine.
“It really shows a lot of leadership to put children’s health first by being the first in Africa to introduce this vaccine into routine immunization and it is a great lesson for other countries,” she says.
Now that Liberia has paved the way, it’s about time that other African countries emulate the good example of Liberia to fight typhoid out of Africa, she adds.