Inter-religious leaders have called on the government to involve them in sensitising faithful to take up Covid-19 vaccines. This, they say, will help meet the 10 million vaccination target set by the Health ministry.
The Christian and Muslim leaders said they would use informal and formal channels to encourage followers to take the jabs.
“I stand on the pulpit every Sunday to inspire and pray for faithful. What if I add messages to encourage vaccine uptake?” said Moses Shiribwa Smith, former regional coordinator of the National Council of Churches in Kenya (NCCK), Western region.
“As a religious leader, I want to see people lead healthy lives to continue worshipping God,” he added.
In an interview with The Standard, Shiribwa said religious leaders should join the government in the dissemination of information on vaccination.
He said although religious leaders had been encouraging faithful to take the jab, a majority do not have knowledge of the virus and the importance of vaccination.
He said faithful across various denominations are misinformed about the vaccines and their side effects.
“Male members of my church associate the vaccine with impotence, while women fear it might compromise their health. These are myths that religious leaders should demystify with facts, only if they are empowered with knowledge,” said Shiribwa, who is also pastor of a local church in Vihiga County.
The Ministry of Health is targeting to vaccinate 10 million people by end of December 2021, and 27 million people by 2022.
Farida Salim, Women Representative of the Supreme Council of Kenya (Supkem) Kisumu branch, said religious leaders had not been fully engaged at the national and county level.
“As far as Muslims are concerned, the knowledge gap is big because of lack of better participation,” said Salim.
“Religious leaders command respect and interact with many people on a daily basis. They cannot be ignored,” she added.
Amref Health Africa and the Coalition for Health Research and Development has been engaging religious leaders to help boost uptake of the vaccine.
So far, clergy who have benefitted from basic training on Covid are drawn from Laikipia, Baringo, Kisumu, Siaya, Kakamega, Narok, Vihiga, Nyandarua and Kisii counties.
Amref Country Director Meshack Ndirangu asked the inter-religious council to disseminate information on the uptake of Covid-19 jabs to help create herd immunity.
However, Dr Ndirangu raised concerns over vaccine hesitancy, an issue he said derails the fight against the virus.
“Church leaders should ask what they can do to boost uptake of the vaccines. This will create awareness and ensure we do not cripple the economy,” he said.
Dr Bernard Lang’at of Amref said religious leaders are respected and have in the past been engaged to encourage uptake of polio and measles, among other childhood immunisations.
“Community trusted gatekeepers like religious leaders should help disseminate information on why vaccines are important,” said Lang’at.
Unlike doctors, who are technical people, Lang’at said with adequate knowledge, religious leaders can disseminate information to local communities in a layman language for better understanding.