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Delivering Trust in Vaccines on Immunization’s Front Lines

By Naveen Thacker, Vince Blaser, Amruta Vadnerkar and Shraddha Uttekar 

Health workers carry out a house-to-house survey to make sure children were vaccinated in San Esteban, Honduras on Thursday April 25, 2013.

Encouraging news about COVID-19 vaccine development is coming fast and frequent this past month. Discussions abound about whether vaccine uptake, combined with other prevention measures, will be high enough to end this horrific pandemic in communities around the world.

That question will be answered in large part by how well we prepare pediatricians, nurses and other frontline health workers who deliver vaccines and immunization information. Each must have conversations with their patients, communities and networks – in the clinic or virtually.

This is why the International Pediatric Association and its 169 National Pediatric Societies from 149 countries have created the IPA Vaccine Trust Project. The Project is a self-paced, online education platform for health workers to learn about communications and advocacy on delivering vaccines and immunization information.

IPA has partnered with the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Immunization Advocates program to pilot this platform in low- and middle-income countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America transitioning off assistance from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Flyer for IPA-Sabin partnership launch event.
The IPA-Sabin partnership launched on December 15. Watch a recording of the virtual event here.

Frontline health workers’ delivery of vaccines has helped decrease childhood death rates by more than half in the last 30 years. However, routine childhood immunization rates are declining around the world due in large part to declining trust in information about vaccines.

Frontline health workers are trusted gatekeepers of health information for their communities. The Vaccine Trust Project seeks to bolster their ability to communicate directly with patients and externally with media or on online social media forums. The Project will also enhance their skillsets to advocate for immunization locally, nationally and globally.

Sustained community access to trusted information on vaccines is especially critical in countries which have transitioned from Gavi assistance. These include Armenia, Bolivia, Honduras, Georgia, Guyana, Moldova and Azerbaijan – where our partnership will pilot. During the next several months, IPA and its affiliate national pediatric societies will work with other health workforce associations, governments and other stakeholders in these countries to deliver training through platform modules in English, Russian and Spanish.

The IPA-Sabin partnership will pair this online training with topical seminars and advocacy activities. We will connect frontline health workforce advocates to communications opportunities, including potentially with local journalists reporting on vaccines and immunizations.

As we continue to learn from the nurses, pediatricians, physicians assistants and other frontline health workers who participate in this project, the partnership will adapt materials to meet their needs. We will also advocate for the information these health workers need to build and maintain trust in the communities they serve, allowing them to deliver trusted information on routine immunization and to communicate the rapidly evolving body of knowledge about COVID-19 vaccination.

As we have seen in other global health emergencies like the recent Ebola epidemic in a conflict region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, immunization can play a central role in ending epidemics. However, their effectiveness can only be maximized with sustained effort to build community trust. To end the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure the lifesaving power of all vaccines, we must urgently prioritize equipping frontline health workers with the skills they need to confidently deliver trusted and up-to-date immunization information to their communities.

Authors

Naveen Thacker
Dr. Naveen Thacker, a well-known Pediatrician of Gandhidham is the Director of Deep Children Hospital & Research Centre at Gandhidham-Kutch, Gujarat, India and an Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics at Pramukhswami Medical College, Karamsad Anand, Gujarat, India. He is an Executive Director of the International Pediatric Association (IPA) for the year 2019-2021 and Secretary of Child Health Foundation. He is a former President of Asia Pacific Pediatric Association (APPA) for the year 2016-18 and the National President of Indian Academy of Pediatrics in 2007. He served as a CSO representative on Gavi Board for 4 years. He is also currently a member of Pneumococcal Expert group of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India and Indian Expert Advisory Group on Measles and Rubella. His current interest is in the area of Vaccine Hesitancy and he is leading the IPA Vaccine Trust project. He is a Steering Committee Member of Immunization Partners of Asia Pacific (IPAP) for the year 2017- 2019. He is listed amongst the top influencer for the fight against Polio released by UNICEF on World Polio Day 2017 and has been awarded prestigious awards, including Outstanding Asian Pediatrician Award 2012, Rotary International Regional Award for Polio-free World 2010, Rotary Ratna Award District 3050, 2010 and prestigious FIAP award.
Naveen Thacker
Vince Blaser
For more than 15 years, Vince Blaser has utilized a journalism and public policy background to raise the profile of global health programs and issues by initiating and growing partnerships. Prior to joining Sabin in July 2020 as Director of Immunization Advocates, he served in advocacy and policy leadership at IntraHealth International and directed the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, an alliance of more than 35 U.S.-based organizations advocating for greater and more strategic investment in frontline health workers in low- and middle-income countries. Previously, he worked in advocacy, policy and communications roles at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Global Health Council. Vince also has written and edited for the Kaiser Family Foundation’s daily reports on global health, held several positions as a newspaper reporter in Washington, D.C., and Colorado, and worked at the British Houses of Parliament in London. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism from Colorado State University and a master’s degree in international education development from Columbia University.
Vince Blaser
Amruta Vadnerkar
Amruta is working as a Project Manager at International Pediatric Association on IPA/UNICEF collaboration project on Children and COVID-19 involves the planning and organizing series of webinars on Immunization, Vaccination, Adolescent and mental health during COVID-19 via online platform. Earlier she has worked in Child Health Foundation as Project Manager on Vaccine Confidence Project collaboration with Global Health Strategies and International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Amruta Vadnerkar
Shraddha Uttekar
At the International Pediatric Association (IPA), Project Manager Shraddha has been involved in the overall management of the IPA Vaccine Trust Project. For the past one year, she has been working on the implementation of project for improving vaccine confidence and demand globally. Shraddha has contributed to the development of monitoring and evaluation framework for the project and an online education platform to train healthcare workers. Currently, she has been working on the development of a platform for surveillance and response for vaccine-related misinformation trends that aims to monitor the level of misinformation and mobilizing the cadre of the trained Healthcare workers to mitigate potential hesitancy issues through evidence-based messaging with a coordinated response.
Shraddha Uttekar