5 things the International Community can do to help Citizens of countries whose leaders are Anti-vaccine

An Anti-vaccine Protest in Australia on 20th February 2021

While most level headed people agree that life on planet earth cannot return to some sort of normalcy until the whole world population (or a significant percentage of it) is vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, there are those who continue to actively campaign against the vaccine. Some of such people do not want to receive a vaccine (when it is made available to them), and others have openly indicated that they will resist any attempts to get them vaccinated. The situation is so bad the British Medical Journal recently carried an article asking: ‘Should spreading anti-vaccine misinformation be criminalised?

As previously discussed in a different article, people refusing a vaccination in the midst of a global pandemic presents a major problem to governments everywhere primarily because we know that if not enough people are vaccinated against COVID-19, the world will exist in a semi-nightmare state of constantly grappling with new virus mutations that will be springing up more often than not. Some of those variants will be more resistant to the vaccine candidates currently available, as has happened with the South African Variant.

A similar problem to this threat is the fact that there are influential political and religious leaders in some countries who are anti-vaccine, and are in denial regarding the existence of COVID-19, and have been preaching a negative scare-mongering message against the vaccines, putting their lives and the lives of their country’s citizenry in danger.

Below, I propose 5 things which the international community could do to help and support people who want to be vaccinated, but who live in countries where the leadership is anti-vaccine, or where religious leaders have been spreading false misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines.

1. Invite the Scientists and Epidiemologists of the Countries concerned to examine random batches of the vaccines sent to them

If they accept to receive Vaccine Supplies then one way of developing confidence in the vaccine and of reducing mistrust is to invite local scientists and epidiemologists to independently study the contents of the vaccine. Admittedly, this could be time consuming, and may involve providing technical know-how and equipment for such exercises.

But when political and religious leaders of several countries have been indifferent or vocal regarding the pandemic, and COVID-19 vaccines, notably Tanzania’s president John Magafuli, South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Zambia’s former Vice President Nevers Mumba, even Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro – who last December claimed that Pfizer’s shot could turn people into crocodiles – letting these countries independently examine the Vaccines seems to me a fair gesture that would go some way to putting those bizarre claims and misinformation firmly to sleep.

2. Empower local Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) to dispel Anti-Vaccination myths.

It’s one thing hearing the World Health Organisation or CNN provide preventative recommendations on TV regarding wearing masks, using hand sanitiser, and observing social distancing; its quite another sitting in a room with familiar faces and hearing that very same message in your own language, from an organisation that is just around the corner from your house, and where one of your friends works. That NGO may have even assisted you with some issue in the past, and you know and trust the lady who runs it.

The closer the the place the message regarding the importance of vaccinations emanates from, the higher the likelihood that more people will take it up. Ultimately, it’s all about trust and if people see and hear those they know, trust and respect (who they may have had first- hand interactions with) say the Vaccine is safe, and recommend it, more people will be persuaded to receive it.

3. Use Embassies as safe zones for the adminstration of the Vaccine to citizens who disagree with their government’s Anti-vaccine stance.

This one may be a bit controversial and may need quite a bit of planning and consultation as to the legal ramifications, but I believe embassies could be used as centers through which vaccines can be administered to citizens of certain countries, where the Government of the country has not procured Vaccine supplies, and in circumstances where there is a at least a presumed permission from the authorities for diplomatic missions of other countries to procure and administer Vaccines.

Alternatively, if the situation is such that there continues to be stiff resistance or opposition to the COVID-19 Vaccines from the Government, then border posts of neighbouring countries could potentially be used as Vaccination centres. In any case, there would be no restriction for a person, passport in hand, to walk across the border into a neighbouring country that is administering vaccinations, to receive the vaccine and after the 15 minute observation period, walk right back across the border into their own country.

Admittedly, this would require quite a significant logistical operation, the support of the borders and immigration ministry, but also human support in terms of temporary shelters and even food for the thousands of people who will be visiting the centres. Further, not every citizen in every country has a passport, so there would have to be some kind of a relaxation of the immigration rules to allow citizens without passports to temporarily enter into a neighbouring country’s territory.

4. Work with the Diaspora to provide reassurance to people who are uncertain.

Manchester Library. The City of Manchester is home to significant Diaspora populations of many countries.

As others have already shown, working with people in the diaspora could be one way of reassuring those who are uncertain as to the safety of the vaccines. Several members of the Malawian diaspora have been instrumental in encouraging their contemporaries within the diaspora and also in Malawi to observe safety and preventative COVID-19 guidelines. Off the top of my head, Doreen Chisiza is a good example. A Similar approach could be taken to encourage Vaccine uptake, as demonstrated by Dr Daniel Dube in the video below (note it is in Chichewa).

5. Be Creative with high impact solutions that have a local context.

The Coffee chain Starbucks has joined efforts to help speed COVID-19 vaccination delivery. (Credit: Joshua Trujillo/Starbucks/ Copyright: Starbucks)

Not every solution that has worked in Manchester or New York in persuading Vaccine uptake amongst skeptics or amongst ethnic minorities is going to be as effective in Islamabad or Lilongwe, so it’s definitely a good idea to use local context in the messaging, whereever appropriate. In Israel for example, one bar is encouraging Vaccine uptake amongst young people by offering a free beer to all who come and receive the COVID-19 Vaccine on its premises. That kind of thing goes viral and garners widespread interest by its very nature, but it is not going to work everywhere. Nevertheless, it shows you the level of creativity that’s going into the vaccination effort across the globe.

A Mibawa TV poster

Thus, it may be the case that working with local stars and well known Civil Society Activists to put out the right kind of messaging about Vaccines through local radio / TV stations and suchlike will be more effective.

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