Since the WHO’s declaring Covid-19 pandemic, more than 1.6 billion doses of vaccine has been administered worldwide. The data give hope that the collective immunity developed as a result of immunization will stop the terrible virus.
However, according to a CAREC Institute research survey conducted in Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, only about a quarter of adults believe that all vaccines that have been tested by responsible authorities are safe.
About 32% said that even if the vaccine was free and was certified safe by their governments, they would still not get vaccinated, just because of concerns about possible side effects.
This fear and distrust are generated among the population through fake information, circulating in social media. Misinformation existed long before the internet, but as people spent more time online during the pandemic, the spread of non-scientific claims and conspiracy theories on social media distorted public perception of the disease and jeopardized attitudes toward vaccination programs.
The CAREC Institute has proposed five ways to boost public trust in COVID-19 vaccines. And mainly, this will require coordinated efforts by governments and other stakeholders:
- Engage medical professionals in COVID-19 vaccine advocacy campaigns
72% of respondents in the seven countries expressed trust in COVID-19 preventive measures and treatment recommendations by medical professionals. However, fewer than one in five cited medical workers as a main source of information on vaccinations.
This suggests that when it comes to convincing people to get vaccinated, doctors and nurses should be involved – not only through high-level media appearances but also in grassroots information campaigns ideally supported by medical associations.
- Target interventions to specific social groups
Given that demographics, whether people live in rural or urban settings, and levels of education affect people’s perceptions of vaccines, policymakers should take this into account when designing interventions. Rural residents, for example, would benefit from information campaigns given their generally lower levels of awareness.
Women often make the decisions on immunization for their families, so it is essential for them to have positive attitudes towards vaccination. The survey found that the most common reason for participating in vaccination programs is for family protection, so policymakers should consider making this an integral idea in advocacy campaigns.
- Address both vaccine side effects and the misperception that COVID-19 is not serious
Concern about possible side effects was found to be respondents’ main reason for rejecting vaccines. It is essential that people who have been vaccinated share their experiences and their state-of-being via traditional and social media channels.
People who have recovered from COVID-19 should also share their experiences to fight misperceptions that the disease is not that serious or even altogether fake. Younger people sharing their experiences will help to counteract the belief that only elderly people are seriously affected.
At every stage of the information campaign, it is important to emphasize the main goal of vaccination – to avoid disease complications and help the population return to the previous rhythm of life.
- Take the epidemiological culture into account
Policymakers must also pay close attention to the epidemiological culture in their countries. This includes general levels of compliance with sanitary and hygiene standards, disinfection, wearing masks during viral infection spikes, and avoiding crowded places among their populations.
Unlike in countries such as Japan and the Republic of Korea which have well-established cultures of mask-wearing, the seven countries surveyed had no such culture. This made it difficult to promote the acceptance of medical mask-wearing within a short timeframe.
- Use various information channels and increase media literacy
Vaccination campaigns should be implemented using a diverse mix of widely consumed information sources in each country. These could include the dissemination of leaflets and other physical information through stands, medical institutions, shopping centers, and markets. Civil society organizations also have a key role to play. So do religious leaders, whose recommendations are important for reaching significant segments of the population.
To counteract the influence of misinformation, policymakers should focus on increasing media literacy among their citizens, and equip them with the tools to check facts, identify credible news, and critically evaluate the information they receive from different media sources.
According to the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry of Turkmenistan, three vaccines were delivered to the country from the Russia – Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona, two vaccines – from China (including CoronaVac). Totally, 18 vaccination posts have been opened in five provinces and Ashgabat. The relevant information is distributed in the local media. /// nCa, 28 May 2021 (based on the press release of the ADB)