Leading the Charge in Support of Zambia’s COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign

On Saturday, May 14, 2022, the Zambia Ministry of Health (MOH) launched an ambitious 10-day COVID-19 vaccination campaign in all of the country’s 116 districts, across the 10 provinces, with the aim of vaccinating 70 percent of eligible Zambians (12 years and older) by June 30, 2022. At the beginning of the campaign the national vaccination rate stood at 22.8 percent fully vaccinated and 31.2 percent with at least one dose, with a 10-day target of vaccinating over 5 million people to help get the country to 70 percent vaccinated.

Under the guidance and support of the USAID mission in Zambia, the USAID DISCOVER-Health project is providing vital support to the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in three provinces. At the start of the campaign, the gap to 70 percent (number of eligible unvaccinated people) in the supported provinces were as follows: Central (497,609), Copperbelt (720,449), and North Western (271,410). With this life-saving work ahead, tens of thousands of community mobilizers and vaccine providers headed out to generate demand and vaccinate eligible Zambians against COVID-19.

The project strategically established community vaccination points in locations such as churches, markets, and schools. Crucially, the campaign took a multi-sectoral approach, and worked with community leaders and influencers, including civic, traditional, and religious leaders, and popular musicians and performance artists. While official data is not yet available due to entry backlogs, daily vaccination tallies revealed the following estimated full vaccination rates in USAID DISCOVER-Health-supported locations: North-Western Province at 42 percent (with 67 percent having received at least one dose), nearly doubling full vaccination rates from 24 percent pre-campaign; Copperbelt Province at 40 percent (with 56 percent having received at least one dose), an increase from 26 percent pre-campaign and Central Province at 42 percent (with 61 percent having received at least one dose), a significant increase from 23 percent pre-campaign.

In Lusaka’s Chelstone and Chipata sub-districts, which the project also supported,  the rate currently stands at 34 percent, an increase of 20 percent from the start of the campaign. From the May vaccination campaign achievements, the supported provinces are now primed to reach 70 percent vaccination rates, as both first and second doses continue to be administered in the coming weeks.

In Ndola on May 19, 2022, USAID DISCOVER-Health Project Director Dr. Muka Chikuba-McLeod and project colleagues, together with the Copperbelt Province Permanent Secretary Augustine Kasongo and other Provincial leaders, had the honor of hosting Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director of the USAID COVID-19 Task Force and the USAID/Zambia Mission Director Sheryl Stumbras, along with other senior USAID officials. Observing the vaccination campaign in full swing, the delegation visited multiple vaccination sites and health centers in Ndola, including one of the busiest local markets in Zambia, Masala market, and a nearby school, Sathya Sai Secondary School.

Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director of the USAID COVID-19 Task Force, speaking when he met with local civic, religious and traditional leaders in Ndola, Copperbelt Province.

Jeremy Konyndyk, Executive Director of the USAID COVID-19 Task Force, speaking when he met with local civic, religious, and traditional leaders in Ndobla, Copperbelt Province.

“We were eager to see Copperbelt’s vaccination model in action and learn lessons in the Province, and in Zambia. It’s a proof of concept to show what can happen when you have strong leadership and political will from the government, strong resource support from donors, and strong technical engagement,” said Konyndyk. “When all of those come together, with strong population engagement and community mobilization, enormous success is possible. This pandemic is not over. The best insurance we have against future risk is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

A Zambian health worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a woman wearing a mask.

USAID DISCOVER-Health is supporting the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Here is a woman vaccinated in Masala market, Ndola, Copperbelt Province.

Successful vaccination campaigns go far beyond simply administering the vaccines. USAID DISCOVER-Health staff are working with the MOH to engage eligible populations about vaccine safety and efficacy, working closely with key local stakeholders, including traditional leaders, clergy and other community stakeholders, to ensure these key messages reach Zambians across the board.

Gaining this level of stakeholder buy-in is key to the success of the campaign, as Dr. Chikuba-McLeod explains.

“Now, we are dealing with the middle majority of Zambians who are vaccine-ambivalent. With this group, in addition to strong local leadership and increasing vaccine access within communities, ‘who’ delivers the vaccine message matters greatly,” said Dr. Chikuba-McLeod. “In the Masala market, I can shout into a megaphone encouraging people to get vaccinated until I am blue in the face, but no one will listen to me. However, if one of their own, say a market leader, tells them in a language and way they understand that it is safe and smart to get vaccinated, they turn out in droves and get vaccinated. Now, 78 percent of the eligible population in the Masala area have received at least one dose of their COVID-19 vaccine because the right people are delivering that crucial vaccination message.”

Health staff administers the covid-19 vaccine to a religious group in Zambia

Respectful engagement and cultural appropriateness
by USAID DISCOVER-Health staff unlock COVID-19 vaccination for members of a conservative religious group in Kapiri Mposhi, Central Province.

Dr. Chikuba-McLeod and the USAID DISCOVER-Health team are committed to continue supporting the country’s vaccination efforts in this way, to ensure success: “A conservative religious group in Kapiri Mposhi only allowed its members to be vaccinated when our vaccination teams engaged with them courteously, including respecting their dress code, and their leaders gave the nod. Local leadership, respectful engagement and harnessing of local solutions, including locally-resonant messaging, cultural appropriateness, and availability of technical and financial resources – that is what will get Zambia to 70 percent.”

A breastfeeding mother receives her COVID-19 vaccine certificate after being vaccinated at a USAID DISCOVER-Health mobile site in Ndola.

A breastfeeding mother receives her COVID-19 vaccine certificate, after being vaccinated at a USAID DISCOVER-Health mobile site in Ndola.

The USAID DISCOVER-Health Project aims to improve the lives of Zambians by providing them with better access to quality health care. The Project contributes towards HIV epidemic control, supports national COVID-19 vaccination, prevention and treatment programs, while also providing family planning/reproductive health (FP/RH), and maternal and child health (MNCH) services and products.