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Community Conversations on Vaccines: Catching up with Our Season 1 Guests

In April, the Immunization Advocates team launched a new podcast, Community Conversations on Vaccines, to explore the backstories of journalists and health workers in low- and middle-income countries related to informing communities about vaccines and immunization amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We recently caught up with two of our podcast guests to learn how they continue to cope with COVID-19, what challenges their communities are facing and how they are working to address vaccine misinformation and improve vaccine acceptance and equity.

Listen to season one episodes now and stay tuned for season two, coming in fall 2021!

Dr. Naveen Thacker, President-Elect, International Pediatric Association

Since we last spoke with Dr. Thacker in March, India faced a very difficult second COVID-19 surge. Dr. Thacker says that complacency after the first wave led to the unanticipated second wave, exposing the vulnerability of India’s health infrastructure. Moreover, with the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaign, he mentions that it has been difficult keeping the community informed about the rapidly changing evidence about new variants.

“Vaccination is key to managing future waves,” Dr. Thacker said. “Not only should we prioritize vaccine uptake across the country, but [we need to] communicate honestly with the community. There is a need to invest in health infrastructure, as well as a large-scale, coordinated behavior science-based approach lifestyle involving all sectors of society to make an impact.”

To increase vaccine uptake in light of new and more infectious COVID-19 variants, Dr. Thacker emphasizes that frontline health workers should listen to anxieties and fears in their communities while also amplifying facts and positive messages.

As a pediatrician, he also notes that “when pediatric COVID-19 vaccines are approved, there should not be a rush to go for it, rather [it should be] planned and distributed based on the epidemiological data,” adding that making sure the vaccines are safe should be the priority as well.

Pediatricians should also address any concerns and anxieties that patients and caregivers may have about the vaccines.

Nazima Raghubir, President, Guyana Press Association

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Raghubir mentioned in her episode that Guyana has seen a number of arguments about the lack of information on vaccines.

When we caught up with her recently, she notes that “there’s been lots of misinformation on social media on vaccines and the process of what happens. The media, generally, here have adopted a pro-vaccination approach because we have been a part of the government’s campaign, where a few of us have taken the vaccines and recorded our experience. We shared that experience with the viewers as part of why they [should] take the vaccine.”

As a part of this campaign, Raghubir went through the process of COVID-19 vaccination, capturing the questions, recording the pre-screening process and journaling on her social media accounts. She personally knows a group of journalists who also participated in this initiative. The public information service interviewed Raghubir and her colleagues separately as part of their public awareness program.

Journalists in Guyana are covering stories on vaccine uptake and vaccine acceptance, but she notes other stories that are also important to cover, such as the impact of the pandemic on the economy, business, private life and education.

“One of the things that we have not focused on fully, as the media, is the number of people who have needed or have been subjected to the ICU or ventilators,” Raghubir says. “We’ve not quantified and looked at how many people have died at the hospital because we have a special COVID hospital. I think it’s still in the early stages to be able to get to that aspect of reporting and data gathering and stuff like that.”

Many journalists have faced criticism when trying to accurately report on the pandemic and vaccines.

“One of the things that I’ve noted is that a lot of times [the media] sticks to the facts, which is very important in this case.”

Raghubir notes that she has not seen reporters share information from questionable sources.

”The Ministry of Health has also provided a list of specialists that you can call from time to time for information, which is what you need in a pandemic. You need access. You need to be able to clarify information at [short] notice.”

In times like this, the media has ensured that they do not put information out there until they clarify that this is factual, which she finds important and commendable.

To learn more about Guyana’s experience with COVID-19 vaccines, read Raghubir’s recent article published by the Media Institute of the Caribbean.