A Contest and a Campaign Boost COVID-19 Vaccines in Peru
Health workers and educators join forces to immunize schoolchildren in the Andes
COVID-19 vaccination in Peru’s Ayacucho region became available in May 2021. Ten months later, however, the region had one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in all Peru. Two-dose vaccination coverage stood at 71 percent in adults, 60 percent in children aged 12–17, and 30 percent in children aged 5–11. Alarms went off for Dr. Walter Bedriñana Carrasco, Regional Health Director of Ayacucho.
Facing challenges related to vaccine misinformation in the community and inefficiencies in managing and reporting immunization data, Dr. Bedriñana and his team turned to USAID’s Local Health System Sustainability Project (LHSS) to help understand and tackle the problem. Soon, things began to improve.
Paired with an LHSS advisor, himself a former regional health director, the team explored the reasons behind COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and lack of uptake. With a better understanding of these challenges, LHSS supported Ayacucho in devising a strategy to increase vaccination coverage. The plan would turn on strengthening the directorate’s capacity to administer its COVID-19 vaccination program and manage immunization data.
The Ayacucho team visited the regions of Lima and Ancash, two places with the highest vaccination coverage rates in the country. Here, they learned about an important ingredient used to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake among schoolchildren — a partnership between health workers and educators.
One of the key lessons Dr. Bedriñana and his team took from the learning visits was the importance of intersectoral collaboration. Returning home, the team started working with the education sector towards increasing vaccination coverage among families and children through an awareness-raising campaign about the benefits of vaccination. The campaign was designed specifically to counter the uncertainty and lack of information that had been inhibiting vaccine uptake in the educational community.
“The health personnel had the approach and presence to sensitize students and teachers in a didactic way and above all to clarify the myths that parents had about the fear of the negative effects of vaccination on their children,” said Edgar Jayo Medina, Ayacucho’s Regional Director of Education.
LHSS helped health and education sector officials to develop a regional strategy to promote vaccination of schoolchildren through a contest, challenging schools to achieve 80 percent of two-dose vaccination coverage among their students. Schools reaching the highest vaccination coverage in the region would receive an award.
The vaccine uptake strategy was formalized in a regional education directive which ignited enthusiastic participation among school directors, teachers, and health workers toward achieving their shared goal of vaccinating more schoolchildren.
“I believe that the directive encouraged teachers to continue the work on promoting vaccination,” said Mr. Jayo.
By the end of LHSS’s support in September 2022, 61 percent of high schools and 33 percent of primary schools in Ayachucho had achieved more than 80 percent of two-dose COVID-19 vaccination coverage among students. The region also had the highest growth in third-dose vaccination rates, with an increase of 22 percent compared to the national average increase of 15 percent.
Noticing LHSS’s impact in his region, Dr. Bedriñana commented, “I want to sincerely thank the project for all its contributions, including technical assistance through a technical advisor who has joined our work, working with our own teams, analyzing our numbers, developing strategies, and transmitting them to all our teams at the regional level.”
Going forward, health officials in Ayachucho are better equipped to analyze vaccination needs, design communication campaigns, and have forged a stronger relationship with the education sector. Above all, the region is building its capacity to respond effectively to future health emergencies.