Vaccines are effective interventions that can reduce the high burden of diseases globally. However, public vaccine hesitancy is a pressing problem for public health authorities.
Covid-19 vaccines are now available in the country. However, little information is available on the public acceptability and attitudes towards the vaccines in the country.
Despite studies indicating that about 53.1 per cent of the public is willing to accept vaccination against Covid-19, the remaining percentage is still a major concern. Such a level of acceptability is considerably low given the magnitude of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prior estimates suggest that the threshold for Covid-19 herd immunity varies among countries, with a suggested average threshold of 67 per cent. Hence, the acceptance level of 53.1 per cent indicates an urgent need for public health strategies to increase acceptance of Covid-19 vaccines in the general population.
This low level of vaccine acceptance is due to misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the Covid-19 vaccines. Factors for the reluctance include side effects, lack of information, safety, doubted effectiveness, accessibility, pain related to injection, cost, and religious/personal beliefs. Some people even believe that the vaccine can affect fertility.
So, how can the public be encouraged to be pro-vaccine? Public health strategies are urgently needed to address the wide misinformation and conspiracy theories. Moreover, transparent communication about vaccine effectiveness and safety is also crucial.
Public-private partnership initiatives such as that between the World Health Organization (WHO) and journalists should be formed to counter negative messaging associated with vaccines. The government needs to engage community leaders and solicit from communities to increase communities’ understanding of the importance of the vaccines.
The government should institute policies similar to those in countries such as Britain to clamp down on public disinformation and misinformation, including imposing heavy fines on individuals and establishments such as churches who publicly spread false information about Covid-19 vaccines.
Finally, government should collaboratively and, through the drug safety regulatory agency, set up functional vaccine adverse event reporting systems to collect and analyse data on reported Covid-19 adverse events. This data will inform further studies to determine if the adverse event is a side effect of the vaccine or not.
Once it is proven that a vaccine causes adverse effects, this information should be used to decide the next steps such as discontinuing the vaccine or including all information to warn the public. With all this in place there will be a high probability of large numbers flocking for the vaccine uptake.
Dorita Kelsie, Kisumu.