Misinformation Could Hinder Vaccine Acceptance In Zim Communities-Experts

  • Even some health experts are still unsure of the vaccine

HEALTH experts have warned that rolling out the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program without adequately engaging communities would hinder uptake of COVID-19 vaccines.

By Michael Gwarisa

The call comes in the wake of numerous conspiracy theories making rounds in communities which if not dispelled, would derail the nationwide vaccination process. At the forefront of covid-19 vaccine conspiracy theories in Zimbabwe are renowned religious leaders, some politicians and opinion leaders in communities.

Public Health Expert and Epidemiologist, Dr Grant Murewanhema said as long as the existing fears and conspiracies are not addressed, the whole process could be jeopardized.

Effective vaccination roll-out plans must not exclude the most relevant stakeholders who are the recipients themselves. Have we adequately addressed the general population’s concerns and fears?

“People’s fears and concerns must always be taken as genuine, and the government must work closely with relevant experts to communicate effectively and raise the right awareness,” said Dr Murewanhema.

He added that there was a huge information gap at community level including the medical field and also amongst other health professions with regards to the vaccine.

“As it stands even some healthcare workers are unsure because they have not been adequately informed. The uptake of vaccines by healthcare workers is critical for success of roll-out to the general public.

Community Working Group of Health (CWGH) executive Director, Mr Itai Rusike said for herd immunity to be attained, a sizable number of willing citizens to should be ready to get vaccinated.

“Now that the first batch of the Covid-19 vaccine doses are here, we need to tackle the ongoing disinformation and vaccine scepticism. The rise of misinformation, disinformation, science denialism, anti-vaxxer sentiments and vaccine hesitancy is a worrying picture for us.

“In order to achieve country herd immunity, we need many people to be willing to take a safe and effective vaccine. Public trust and vaccine acceptance requires an urgent widespread communication strategy and plan,” said Mr Rusike.

He added that tackling disinformation and misinformation will require a multilingual public education, Information and awareness campaign with respectful discussion, community engagement and communication that cannot be reduced to government messaging.

“Informed and empowered communities are the bedrock for vaccine acceptance because without widespread vaccination, we will not be able to end this pandemic. There is need for a rigorous and sustained awareness campaigns to counter the anti-vaccine stories and beliefs through partnership and collaboration with the civil society, churches and other stakeholders.

“The bottom line is that the national leadership should lead by example by getting vaccinated first so that they can build confidence in the general public about the safety and effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines.”

Meanwhile, rollout of the first 200 000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine that was donated to Zimbabwe by the Chinese government will commence on Thursday, 18 February 2020, on a voluntary basis and will be free.  According to information minister Senator Monica Mutsvangwa, the aim of the first phase is to vaccinate 22%, 18,4% under Phase 2; 18,4% under Phase 3, thereby yielding a vaccinated population of nearly 60% of the population.





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