Tackling anti-vax movement in COVID-19

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Marian Harrison is a junior house officer at Ghana Police Hospital, Ghana. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


As of April 17, 2022, there have been over 504 million reported cases of Covid-19 and 6.2 million reported deaths due to Covid-19 worldwide. Many people have lost their jobs or seen their income significantly slashed. Unemployment rates have increased across major economies (www.bbc.com). In Sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 1.4% fall in GDP has been documented, with 5% loss in public revenue (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2020). Overall, the negative impact of Covid-19 on health systems, global economy and individual finances cannot be over-emphasized. In February 2021, The World Health Organization recognized vaccination as a key strategy to end the Covid-19 pandemic. As at April 24, 2022, ten vaccines have been granted emergency use listing (EUL) by WHO (www.who.int).

The concept of vaccine hesitancy and anti-vax movements is as old as vaccination itself, and only brought to light, one more time, following the development of Covid-19 vaccines. Common reasons for vaccine reluctance include concerns about safety of the vaccines; the vaccine being developed too quickly, misinformation about ability to alter DNA, Vaccine efficacy; when the aunt of the friend of a brother had been vaccinated but still got Covid-19, Potential serious adverse reactions not made known to the public, conspiracy theories such as vaccination being a ploy by the West to reduce the African population, just to mention a few.

Communication strategies to tackle vaccine hesitancy should aim at conveying accurate information, busting myths, and using people (and channels) trusted by the public. Clearly communicating all potential side effects and educating on what can be done to relieve the symptoms will relay the fear of having contracted Covid-19 when symptoms of fever, headache and general feeling of unwell are experienced after vaccination. This may be done via posters, billboards and television advertisements. The media should be responsible in their reportage, verifying their sources from reputable organizations like WHO before relaying information to the public. In religious societies, religious leaders can be instrumental in addressing vaccine hesitancy. People are more likely to opt for vaccination if their trusted religious leaders appeal to them to do so, going a step further to take the vaccine themselves publicly.

In this age, social media is a powerful tool that can be used as a medium of communication to address the anti-vax campaign against Covid-19 vaccination, just as it is used to propagate the same. Social media influencers and celebrities can be used to reach millions of people with accurate information about the vaccine. Experts in the field of vaccine development should be given the platform to educate on vaccine development and EUL protocols, and the fact that corners were not cut in the quest to develop vaccines quickly, assuring the public of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

The Covid-19 pandemic cannot be ended with vaccines, but with vaccination.

References

  1. www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019, accessed on 23 April, 2022.
  2. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development brochure, 2020.
  3. www.bbc.com/news/business-51706225 accessed on 24th April, 2022.

About the author

Marian Harrison is a junior house officer at Ghana Police Hospital, Ghana. Apart from her interest in cardiovascular medicine and medical research, she is an avid reader, passionate about writing, and also interested in social issues such as gender equality and women empowerment. She hopes to undertake her postgraduate medical training in Internal Medicine, addressing gender biases in cardiovascular health. She enjoys learning new things and taking on academic projects.

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