INFORMATION IS POWER

Educate public on Covid-19 vaccines

In Summary
  • As often happens, the global elite and scientific community were so consumed with finding a cure for Covid-19.
  • Unfortunately, we ignored the critical need to engage with and forge partnerships with communities to promote vaccine acceptance.
The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is expected to be rolled out in the coming days.
The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is expected to be rolled out in the coming days.
Image: REUTERS

Nearly 77 million people have been infected by Covid-19 and about 1.7 million have died. Economies are devastated. Livelihoods have been upended. Hundreds of millions of children have been kept out school to reduce the risk of infections.

The development of the Covid-19 vaccine has advanced at an unprecedented, lighting speed. Vaccine research that would normally take several years has been completed in just 10 months. Two vaccines – Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – have been found to be safe and more than 90 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 shortly after vaccination. We are living a truly historic time.

Given the unspeakable morbidity, mortality and economic ruin wrought by Covid-19, one would expect that a vaccine would be instantly and universally accepted, with hundreds of millions waiting with bated breath. Unfortunately, a deadly wind of vaccine scepticism is blowing across the world.

A recent poll showed that only 50 per cent of Americans were ready to get the vaccine. In the United Kingdom, a third of the people say they will either decline the vaccine or wait and see. One in five British people thought vaccine safety and efficacy data could be fabricated. One in 20 described themselves as anti-vaccination for Covid-19. About 37 per cent of South Africans said they would not get the vaccine.

Hundreds of millions around the world believe Covid-19 is not real. Hence, Covid-19 vaccine scepticism is not surprising. Neither is it unique. Many around the world still will not wear a mask or take other public health measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

There is also a significant population who believe the virus exists and is deadly but are not concerned about getting sick. There is also a large and growing population of people who are hesitant. Reason; testing and approval has been rushed.

As often happens, the global elite and scientific community were so consumed with finding a cure for Covid-19. Unfortunately, we ignored the critical need to engage with and forge partnerships with communities to promote vaccine acceptance. Somehow, and wrongly so, the elite assumed that people would accept the vaccine simply because Covid-19 is such as deadly respiratory virus. Not really.

Here in Kenya, a Catholic Bishop said he would not ask his congregation to get the vaccine unless the government carried out a vaccine literacy campaign to educate and reassure the public of the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines.

The scientific community often speaks from a place of remote, esoteric authority. Now is the time to engage intentionally and transparently. The public must understand the critical steps of vaccine development; from design to approval. The public is sufficiently literate and willing to engage if they have the correct information. Now is the time to deploy the best in science communication.

Distrust of Western-led clinical interventions is not new. Scientific racism is not some idle or hollow myth. Remember the eugenics movement and the Tuskegee syphilis study?

Communities around the world must be reassured that the vaccine is safe and without unknown side effects.