Stories

VAXinated

Vaccinating vulnerable communities with VaxBus amidst fuel crisis

In its continued fight against COVID-19 in Lebanon Medair, in coordination with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and with funding from EU Humanitarian Aid, established mobile COVID-19 vaccination teams by adapting several buses to create ‘VaxBuses’. The aim is to continue driving up vaccination rates in vulnerable communities with low vaccination coverage across the Bekaa Valley, Baalbek-Hermel, Nabatiyeh and the South of Lebanon, including those who would physically struggle to access vaccination centres.

 

“I never thought I’d say this, but I am finally vaccinated­­.” says Salwa.

For many people living in vulnerable communities with low vaccination coverage, the COVID-19 vaccine is still somewhat a puzzling topic. Across the town of Arsal, in the Baalbek – Hermel district, some people still fear the idea of getting vaccinated. However, for Salwa, a 63-year-old Lebanese Arsal resident, the vaccine is simply the key for life to return to normal. Salwa tells us her story about what the pandemic was like for her and her family, and why she wants to get vaccinated.

“I was terrified when I first heard of COVID-19. Keep in mind I wasn’t scared for myself; I was scared for my children’s health. I have four boys and three beautiful girls, bless their hearts. All my children are grown ups and have families of their own. However, what is a mother to do in times like these? I didn’t want them leaving to work, but of course they had to. My husband retired some time ago with some savings but can no longer work, and so our children provide for us. There was no other way. I had to remain strong for them throughout the pandemic, but it would tear my heart to pieces knowing they were out there every day with the coronavirus disease spreading. I always made sure to constantly remind them to take their precautions. The pandemic took a toll on us as a family. Lately, it’s been difficult with everything the country has been going through. But I am a firm believer that everything will work out just fine. By God’s will with our children’s help, we are getting by.” she says with a hopeful tone of voice.

When I first heard news of the vaccine, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. However, it seemed farfetched. At the start, it was a struggle to access accurate information. I would gather bits and pieces of information from nearby residents and neighbors, but it wasn’t nearly enough to understand. I fear what I cannot understand. Then came the fuel crisis, which made it impossible for a person anywhere in Lebanon to move from point A to B. On top of that I was slightly hesitant, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get vaccinated at that point. Even if I wanted to, it seemed like a such an effort and struggle for us to reach any nearby centers, and so the topic was off the table. The days went by, flying one after the other off the calendar, until that one day…” says Salwa adjusting her face mask.

A Lebanese woman waiting while Medair staff checks registration

Salwa Houjani, a Lebanese woman waits while her vaccine registration on the COVAX platform is being checked for clearance at the Public Garden in Arsal on the 16th of November 2021.

She continued eagerly “One night when I was asleep, I had a dream like no other. I woke up with ease in my heart. In my dream, I found myself together with my husband, going on a pilgrimage. For the longest time, it had been our life’s wish to go on pilgrimage together. However, the year me and my husband had agreed to go and were able to, the pandemic happened, and we had to stay put. It remained a dream until recently.” says Salwa with hopeful eyes.

Mid conversation, Salwa was called out to receive her first dose of Pfizer vaccine. Salwa had heard from nearby neighbors that there was a bus coming to town to admit Pfizer vaccinations, to those who fit the ministry of public health’s eligibility criteria. After finding out she and her husband fit the criteria, Salwa asked her children to register her family onto the COVAX platform and started encouraging others to register to get the vaccine.

A Lebanese woman looks at the vaccination card held by Medair staff

Hussein Harayti, Medair’s health manager talks to Salwa Houjani, a Lebanese woman who was just admitted her first dose of Pfizer vaccine, about the importance of the vaccination card at the Public Garden in Arsal on the 16th of November 2021

“I cannot believe I am saying this, but I am finally vaccinated.” says Salwa with an apparent smile behind her mask as she was welcomed into the monitoring area. Today, as I stood by the front gate of the public garden in Arsal, I watched the bus arrive. I knew I was making the right decision being here. Knowing that we can re-start our plan gives me hope. I understand this effort is collective, so thank you to those involved. Thank you so much for your efforts and for providing us with the vaccine. Because of the opportunity today, me and my husband are one step closer to making our dream come true. To me, getting the vaccination is the only way for life to return to normal.” she says hopeful.


Medair’s support of the COVID-19 vaccination project is with the financial support of the European Union, Swiss Solidarity and private foundations, and with Gift in Kind from UNICEF.