Strategies to fight global COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

p 2 whats working in the global fight against covid 19 vaccine misinformation

This story is a part of Doubting the Dose, a collection that examines anti-vaccine sentiment and the position of misinformation in supercharging it. Learn extra right here.

In an residence that she shares along with her sister in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24-year-old Sultana Mehjabin Tushi now spends her free time scrolling by means of social media on the lookout for lies about COVID-19 vaccines.

Like the remainder of the world, Bangladesh has been flooded with misinformation about COVID-19 and the brand new vaccines. Tushi is a volunteer for a program run by UNICEF that trains younger folks to discover and report deceptive posts on-line. “A current rumor in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine I got here throughout was that it’ll endanger the lives of individuals and can be much more harmful than the COVID-19 virus ‘made by China,’” she says. “‘They need to hurt Bangladeshi folks, and that’s why we must always not take it. I noticed it in a random Fb group and reported it after seeing it.”


It’s one small piece of the work that organizations resembling UNICEF and governments are doing to attempt to improve acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccines within the creating world. In a single current survey in Bangladesh, round a 3rd of respondents stated that they had been reluctant to take the vaccine. The numbers fluctuate by nation, however in a lot of the world, a big proportion of the inhabitants nonetheless isn’t satisfied that they need to be vaccinated. The sluggish rollout of vaccines is one other main problem, however as vaccines develop into extra available, the fight in opposition to misinformation will solely develop into extra urgent.

Folks appear to actually be believing a few of these issues greater than in our historic reminiscence.”

Heidi Larson, founding father of the Vaccine Confidence Challenge

Vaccine hesitancy has been an issue so long as vaccines have existed. However social media has helped amplify it in lots of low-income nations—as a lot because it has within the U.S. In 2019, in Pakistan, a faux video claiming to present kids in a hospital after getting the polio vaccine spread to tens of thousands of people inside hours on Twitter, Fb, and WhatsApp. 1000’s of Pakistanis took their kids to a hospital after seeing it; a mob of 500 folks set hearth to a well being clinic in Peshawar close to the place the vaccine had been given. In lower than every week, authorities suspended the polio vaccination program. Two million kids missed getting the possibly lifesaving vaccine.

Rumors in regards to the supposed risks of vaccines have grown extra distinguished with COVID-19. “Folks appear to actually be believing a few of these issues greater than in our historic reminiscence,” says Heidi Larson, the founding father of the Vaccine Confidence Challenge, a analysis group that research vaccine misinformation and hesitancy on the London College of Hygiene and Tropical Medication. “I believe in these occasions of hyper-uncertainty, folks want some story that makes all of this one way or the other coherent. And a few of these conspiracies give a storyline to it that form of is smart.”

Lots of the concepts are recycled from earlier conspiracies: Earlier than some folks claimed that 5G precipitated COVID-19, others claimed that 4G precipitated H1N1 and 3G precipitated SARS. The misinformation varies by location, although there are a lot of frequent threads. In Afghanistan, some folks don’t suppose they want the vaccine due to a persistent rumor that Muslims are immune to the virus. In sub-Saharan Africa, “we’ve seen many individuals declare that COVID doesn’t have an effect on Africans, and it’s a white-person downside that governments are utilizing to delay elections,” says Mesfin Teklu Tessema, the pinnacle of the well being unit on the Worldwide Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that works with refugees and others displaced by battle and pure disasters. Others consider that the vaccine causes infertility.

When individuals are residing in a battle zone or below a authorities they don’t belief, they’re much more probably to be vulnerable to misinformation. Throughout an Ebola outbreak within the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, “Folks noticed folks dying from Ebola, and so they nonetheless resisted utilizing the vaccine,” Tessema says. “They noticed it as a authorities software to intimidate them or to sterilize the inhabitants. As a result of they’ve many years of hostilities and distrust with the federal government, something that comes from [the capital] Kinshasa is acquired with suspicion.”

Within the case of Ebola, the Worldwide Rescue Committee centered on working with individuals who had been trusted locally—healthcare staff, spiritual leaders, and different neighborhood leaders—to share correct details about the vaccine. It’s the identical primary technique that it and different organizations are counting on for the COVID-19 vaccines. It’s particularly necessary in areas the place web entry nonetheless isn’t widespread. “It’s actually about interpersonal relationships and that neighborhood dialogue that basically issues in these locations,” he says.

“We educated ‘reality champions,’ individuals who had been a part of neighborhood teams, to ship again to us the rumors that they had been listening to.”

Nicole Grable, public well being adviser at Mercy Corps

Nonprofits are additionally racing to monitor misinformation in regards to the vaccines, each in individual and on-line. In northeastern Nigeria, for instance, the nonprofit Mercy Corps arrange a rumor-tracking system for COVID-19 misinformation final 12 months that it could actually now use for misinformation in regards to the vaccines particularly. “We educated ‘reality champions,’ individuals who had been a part of neighborhood teams, to ship again to us the rumors that they had been listening to or the questions that they had been getting round COVID,” says Nicole Grable, a public well being adviser at Mercy Corps who focuses on social and conduct change. “And so we had been ready to monitor and monitor and perceive what these traits had been.” The reality champions reported rumors through textual content messages and telephone calls and would then get an automatic name again with correct data that they might use to refute the rumors.


In Liberia and Burkina Faso, UNICEF is utilizing social listening—monitoring traits on social media—to discover each gaps in data and rumors in regards to the new vaccines. To reply to rumors, one technique it’s testing is to use “inoculation” messages, with the idea that should you expose somebody to a rumor in the fitting method prematurely, they’ll be much less vulnerable to it later, in the identical method {that a} vaccine constituted of a weakened virus may help shield somebody from the precise virus.

The technique entails sharing a transparent, “sticky” truth that folks will bear in mind, then giving a warning with a weakened model of the rumor, flagging the explanation why somebody would possibly share that rumor for monetary or political acquire, after which ending the message with the proper data once more. Current research counsel that the strategy may help. A current guide for governments and organizations about vaccine misinformation that UNICEF developed with the Yale Institute for Global Well being and the nonprofits First Draft and the Public Items Initiatives explains the technique, together with an total strategy to tackling the issue.

Extra from Quick Firm’s Doubting the Dose collection:

Organizations are testing a wide range of different techniques. In South Africa, as a part of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccine communications plan that it’s engaged on with the federal government, UNICEF filmed quick tales about folks’s expertise with the illness, and it has been enjoying the movies on LED screens on vehicles driving from neighborhood to neighborhood as a method to improve understanding of the danger, so individuals are extra probably to need the vaccine.

In Haiti, Mercy Corps ran a textual content and voicemail marketing campaign final 12 months about COVID-19, which it’s now relaunching with a give attention to the vaccines. (Since not all Haitians personal smartphones or have web entry, texting and calls are one of the best ways to attain the most individuals.) It’s additionally hiring digital neighborhood organizers to unfold correct data within the nation, each by means of their very own networks and thru influencers resembling DJs and spiritual leaders. In this system with social media volunteers in Bangladesh, UNICEF can also be asking volunteers to assist share appropriate data of their networks.

The best technique could also be working straight with neighborhood leaders. “I believe there’s method an excessive amount of give attention to debunking misinformation,” Larson says. “I believe it’s necessary, however it’s not going to repair the issue. . . . It’s necessary that folks don’t learn stuff that claims, ‘When you drink a quart of chlorine, it’ll treatment you.’ That’s dangerous, and other people ought to know that that’s fallacious. However that’s not going to change the feelings, sentiments, and attitudes behind this. So I believe we actually want extra of a trust-building technique.”

Tessema, from the Worldwide Rescue Committee, believes that working with trusted leaders in communities will assist overcome hesitancy to take COVID-19 vaccines, the identical method that it helped overcome hesitancy in regards to the Ebola vaccine. The shortage of provide of the vaccine in low-income nations is a good greater problem, he says, arguing that we’d like to do far more to assist ramp up manufacturing. (Like many different advocates, Tessema believes that pharmaceutical corporations that acquired taxpayer help to develop COVID-19 vaccines have a accountability to share their mental property so different corporations may help pace up manufacturing.)

Nonetheless, misinformation about vaccines is probably going to proceed to be a big problem within the creating world, simply as it’s in nations such because the U.S. And what occurs with the COVID-19 vaccines will influence how folks take into consideration vaccines on the whole. “I believe we must always make each effort to get this proper,” says Larson. “Not only for COVID, however for after COVID. This can be a enormous second in historical past that we’re creating. If folks bear in mind being not noted in COVID, that’s what they’re going to bear in mind the following time now we have an issue. And so they’re going to belief even much less.”