Dealing with vaccine hesitancy and eagerness is the next big challenge

Government has communication strategy to support the COVID-19 vaccine rollout

With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout all set to begin on January 16, dealing with vaccine hesitancy and eagerness is the next big challenge for the State Health Department.

With a section of registered healthcare workers, who are the prioritised group for vaccination in the first phase, reluctant to take the jab, experts said that the State needs to understand the concerns that healthcare workers and the public have about COVID-19 vaccines, and combat them to build trust and confidence. “It would need a multi-pronged strategy, with transparent communication being key,” one of them said.

Fears of safety

C.N. Manjunath, nodal officer for labs and testing in the State’s COVID-19 Task Force, said addressing vaccine hesitancy – that could arise mainly because of apprehension around safety, efficacy, myths and misconceptions – is vital. “At the same time, managing and mitigating any potential disappointment expressed by unmet demand for the vaccine or eagerness amongst people is equally important,” he said.

Dr. Manjunath, who is part of the COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), cautioned against misleading information in the media, which can lead to a negative influence on the common man, creating confusion and fear, driving them away from getting vaccinated.

“In the first week after vaccination starts, if no immediate adverse effects are reported, which is most likely, people will develop more confidence,” he said.

Jawaid Akhtar, Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare), said dealing with vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers may not be much of a problem. “Healthcare workers are the ones who are quite aware about immunisation. There may not be a problem in the first phase. But we are ready with Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities,” he said.

Stating that the real challenge begins during the second and third phases when frontline workers and those above 50 with co-morbidities will be covered, Mr. Akhtar said an action plan will be put in place to ensure its acceptance.

Roping in celebrities

He said the government of India has come out with a communication strategy that supports the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. “This strategy, that will serve as a guide to all States, seeks to build trust and enable greater confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine by employing transparency in communication, while also managing any mis/disinformation and rumours,” he said.

State Deputy Director (Immunisation) Rajani Nageshrao said on the first day of the vaccination, a video message by a celebrity will be showcased in all the 237 centres where the Prime Minister’s message will also be webcast.

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