Cameroon’s education authorities are pleading with parents to return their children to schools after thousands stayed home on rumors that the youngsters would be vaccinated against COVID-19. The exodus shows the challenge Cameroonian authorities are facing to educate the public on the infection and fears of vaccines.
Cameroonian authorities said several thousand children from at least 15 schools had not shown up to class Monday morning after social media posts that the schools would vaccinate students against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Police officer Willibroad Tabot, 25, says his neighbor told him about a COVID vaccination plan at school, so he kept his children at home.
"Right now, the scientific world is not yet certain on the vaccine," he said, speaking via a messaging application from the western town of Kumba. "As of now there are different versions; we hear China has its own version, the United States has their own version, maybe Russia has their own version of the vaccine, so I do not trust it. My children cannot take it now. There are also rumors on social media saying that this vaccine is trying to cut down the population of blacks in Africa, so I am scared of it."
A member of the anti-COVID campaign team at Cameroon’s Ministry of Health, Erick Tandi, says the reports of a vaccination plan at schools are false.
He says they sent health teams to schools and communities to counter the disinformation.
"With a lot of fake information on social media, the population has some degree of hesitation but the Ministry of Public Health, in collaboration with all actors and partners, are doing their best to sensitize [educate] the population in order to kick out COVID-19 within their communities," he said.
Authorities on Friday said the towns of Kumba and Bafia, 120 kilometers north of Yaounde, were the most affected by the false claims.
Only 200 out of 1,000 children were in class Monday at the Government High School in Bafia.
An economics teacher at the school, Martina Kube, says social media platforms are being used to send schoolwork to the absent students.
"We create WhatsApp groups for each class. We snap [take pictures of] the homework and we send it to their parents. We make sure that the children should read. The parents then verify to make sure that the child copied it (their notes) very well," she said.
Kube said teachers also send WhatsApp messages asking parents to bring their children back to school.
Health Minister Manaouda Malachie, on his Twitter account last week, announced a vaccination plan against COVID-19.
But he gave no details on the availability and origin of the vaccines or when the inoculations would start.
Manaouda said there was a resurgence of COVID-19 in Cameroon with more than 6,000 new cases and 36 deaths since January.
Cameroonian authorities say too many people are failing to use face masks, wash their hands, and socially distance.
Cameroon has confirmed nearly 34,000 COVID cases and more than 500 deaths since the outbreak last March.