HIGH LEVELS OF what is referred to as vaccine hesitancy exist in St. Vincent and the Grenadines with the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
When we speak about vaccine hesitancy, we are referring to the delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccination despite availability of vaccination services. Vaccine hesitancy is complex and context specific, varying across time, place, and the type of vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy is influenced by factors such as complacency, convenience, and confidence. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has for years enjoyed high levels of vaccination. This has contributed to the elimination of a number of vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, whooping cough and polio. Across the country, regardless of geographic location and socio-economic status, there has always been high levels of acceptance and confidence in childhood vaccination. Moreover, adult vaccination such as the tetanus toxoid vaccine is widely accepted.
So, what would have caused the growing hesitancy against the COVID-19 vaccination?
The major cause of vaccine hesitancy is that people are misinformed. Misinformation is fueling vaccine hesitancy. False information tends to be more alarming and spreads faster and can come across as more convincing, thus making it easier for people to believe. Also, with the availability of social media, the sharing of information is quite easy. By the touch of a button, one person can share incorrect information to almost the entire country. It is very important before you share any information about the vaccines that you ask yourself who made it, what is the source of the information, where did it come from and when it was published? It is also important that you ask yourself, why am I sharing the information?
In order for us to fight against this misinformation, health authorities must put credible medical personnel in front of the cameras to give accurate and up to date information about the vaccines. This should be done regularly -almost daily. The spokespersons should be public health officials in which the population trust. To fight vaccine hesitancy, the messenger and the message must be almost perfect.
Information on the vaccines should be available to everyone in various formats. Health officials should utilize both traditional and non-traditional media to spread the information. Interactive sessions should also be held to engage and convince those who are hesitant. The information should be broken down in various forms so that persons of different educational levels can access and understand the information and make an informed decision.
Finally, communities must be at the center of fighting vaccine hesitancy. Reaching down to the community level and having them understand the importance of vaccination to their communities can help to increase vaccines uptake. Schools, Faith-Based Organizations, and other community groups must be engaged.
Let us all work to fight misinformation and to encourage greater acceptance of the vaccines. Protect yourself and protect those that you love.