COVID-19 PROPAGANDA

Use behavioural change communication to dispel vaccine rumours

The lack of strategic communication that aims at addressing citizens’ beliefs and attitudes towards the vaccine gives leeway for misinformation and rumors on the vaccine to thrive

In Summary

• Despite the AstraZeneca vaccine being classified as safe by WHO and European Medicines Agency, there are fevered speculations regarding its efficacy.

• Random questions asked by those who are skeptical include; is the vaccine safe? How was it developed so quickly? Was it rushed? What are the side effects?

Vials labelled with broken sticker "AstraZeneca COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" and a broken syringe are seen in front of a displayed AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken March 15, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
Vials labelled with broken sticker "AstraZeneca COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" and a broken syringe are seen in front of a displayed AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken March 15, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The country is now in the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The new wave is causing strange and severe symptoms to those infected. High number of infections and deaths has been reported for the last two weeks. Health facilities are reportedly over-stretched.

In Nairobi, for instance, there are no ICU beds to cater for the escalating numbers of patients fighting for their lives against the deadly virus. A similar scenario obtains in a number of counties, particularly those bordering Nairobi.

After many months of waiting for the Covid-19 vaccine, the country finally received the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccine. With the vaccination process now underway across different parts of the country, it's everyone’s hope that the jab will be the much anticipated silver bullet. This is crucial in helping us return to normalcy: socially, economically and politically.  

However, there has been a low uptake of the vaccine across the country. Despite the AstraZeneca vaccine being classified as safe by the World Health Organization and European Medicines Agency, there are fevered speculations regarding its efficacy. Random questions asked by those who are skeptical include; is the vaccine safe? How was it developed so quickly? Was it rushed? What are the side effects?

These questions can easily be addressed by mainstreaming social behavioural change communication in society. SBCC is the strategic use of communication approaches to promote changes in knowledge, attitudes, norms, beliefs and behaviours. Social Behavioural Change Communication enables coordination of messages and activities across a variety of channels to reach multiple levels of society.

The lack of strategic communication that aims at addressing citizens’ beliefs and attitudes towards the vaccine gives leeway for misinformation and rumors on the vaccine to thrive. Rumours and misinformation may water down the efforts put in place to fight the pandemic and undermine the potential of vaccination.

Effective Social Behavioural Change Communication is key in improving health outcomes and behaviour across the healthcare services. In this case, SBCC can be used to support uptake of the Covid-19 jab and enhance consistent change of attitude towards the jab by clarifying the rumours and misinformation. SBCC can undertake a critical role in every stage of delivery of the vaccine - before, during and after.

Through social behavioural change communication, stakeholders will be able to understand the concerns on the vaccine and address them sufficiently. The approach will unravel factors that underpin hesitancy, skepticism or resistance to the vaccine, determine key drivers of attitude change and track the shift over time.

If the SBCC is carried out in a space that enables citizens an opportunity to air their opinions, concerns and worries, negative views generated can be contested and positive messages for the change of attitude towards the vaccine be made visible.

Mainstream media, too, has a key role to play in shifting perception on vaccines. The media should be at the forefront in amplifying positive narratives of how the vaccine has worked or administered in other countries. There has been coverage about the vaccination process being halted in some countries. It's the opportunity for the government and local experts to communicate convincingly about any risks that become apparent in the vaccination campaign.

Going forward, the country expects more doses of vaccines to arrive to secure the majority of the population from the dreadful effects of Covid-19 pandemic. However, failure or success in the administration of the first batch will determine citizens’ reception of the vaccine going forward.

The SBCC model will not only ensure a contextual process of administering the vaccine but a participatory process that will make all stakeholders, more so, members of the public, feel well informed and involved in it. This will go a long way in allaying the fears and misinformation regarding the vaccines.

Samuel Kimeu is the executive director Africa’s Voices Foundation, while Derick Ngaira is the organisation's Communications assistant

They can be reached on [email protected] and [email protected]