Tackle vaccine hesitancy curse

Current numbers on vaccination uptake which show drastic vaccine hesitancy should propel responsible authorities to up their efforts if they are serious about getting closer to inoculating at least 10 000 people per day to reach the set target of vaccinating approximately 60 percent of the population by December 2021.

Worryingly, Namibia had up to August 6 fully vaccinated 52 681 citizens, which is 2.1 percent of the target, while 173 428 had at least received one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Indeed, Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila recently unveiled a mass media vaccination campaign cementing government’s intent but while this campaign is to motivate and provide information on the Covid-19 vaccines and vaccination processes, generate awareness, assist in managing myths and misinformation as well as help in developing people’s trust and confidence to improve the acceptance and uptake of the vaccine, this campaign has been practically invisible and has in its initial stages failed.

While government efforts through greater assurance of vaccine supply and the increasing pace of vaccine rollout are visible to some extent, vaccine hesitancy and the unwillingness to get vaccinated are worryingly coming to the fore and for Namibia, this may potentially become a significant threat to achieving the final goal of reaching the golden horizon of herd immunity.

Over the last year, vaccine abstainers (anti-vaxxers) have given various reasons for not accepting Covid-19 vaccination. These include worry about the side-effects of the vaccine, fear that the development of the vaccines was too fast and that safety corners may well have been cut while other are simply against all vaccines.

To address this vaccine hesitancy challenge, responsible authorities need to realise that where electronic and print media communication is inappropriate, strategies need to be created which will be culturally and language appropriate.

Communication techniques and technologies, contextually aligned to the sociological environment, will need to be devised and created in order to address the substantial number of our citizens who remain suspicious and apprehensive of the vaccine, largely because they have been starved of appropriate messaging.

While this is so, those between the vaccine deniers and the vaccine acceptors, need to be reassured and comforted by important vital messages which are direct and unencumbered with scientific jargon. Communication must be honest, and the deficiencies and failures of vaccination must not be glossed over but need to be placed in correct context.

What is agreeable is that much of the vaccine hesitancy can be successfully overcome as such efforts gain momentum, and visual proof of the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines becomes more apparent.

In totality, the role that our communication-starved population could play in the control of the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be ignored. For this reason, efforts to tackle vaccine hesitancy through appropriate communication channels should be of urgent priority.