Why vaccination against COVID-19 and building trust in vaccines is so crucial?
Answers UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria Dr. Jane Muita, who received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine
Dr. Jane Muita, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria, received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As a medical doctor and health care specialist, she did not hesitate at all to take that decision. She shared why vaccination against COVID-19 and building trust in vaccines is so crucial.
Dr. Muita, why did you get vaccinated against COVID-19?
I am a medical doctor and public health specialist and I have worked in the field of health for many years and engaged in the control and response to various epidemics, including to prevent transmission of HIV that raved various countries especially in Africa. Furthermore, I really trust science and know that various experts are working very hard to ensure safety and efficacy of vaccines. Unlike HIV where individual behaviour change was really critical to its prevention, the control of COVID-19 requires behaviour change of each one of us, at scale and in due time! I have adopted the prevention measures strictly and vaccination is the next prevention step I needed to add. I really appreciate that there are effective vaccines because there are many diseases where this has been impossible. I did not hesitate at all in making the decision! Plus, I believe that senior members of every society should be role models by virtue of our wisdom – so I am giving an example to my co-workers, family members, and acquaintances at large.
Why is it critical to build trust in vaccines?
It is important to look historically at the positive impact of vaccines such as in elimination of small pox and control of some of the major killer diseases of children - Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping cough, Meningitis, Measles and now almost eradicating Polio. If we consider the debilitating complication and death that some of these diseases caused when there were no good preventive measures then I realize it is important to urgently build trust on the vaccines against COVID-19 if we are going to save lives and also return to engaging with each other socially without fear.
Mobilization and collective motivation is needed. We are in the middle of serious crisis that requires the efforts of each one of us.
How can we address vaccine hesitancy amid the growing anti-vaccination rhetoric?
The world is now more connected than ever and there is information overload - some of it fake, sensational and not based on evidence. It is important to ensure that there are trusted sources of information in different channels that can be accessed by the general public. The Ministry of Health and the National COVID-19 coordination institutions are trusted sources of national information regarding the pandemic. On the global level the World Health Organization (WHO) provides daily updated and trusted information on the global situation and locally is also a good source of knowledge on the Pandemic. UNICEF focuses on children but also provides on its channels information from the World Health Organization also translated in the local language, and we work a lot with media as main channel for influencing ethically and responsibly people’s knowledge, attitudes and practices. Making information available to all using different channels and simplified to enable understanding is one way of dealing with vaccine hesitancy. We as leaders must also show the way by being among those who accept the vaccine and also who adopt appropriate preventive measures.
How can we fight against misinformation on COVID-19 vaccines?
One way to fight misinformation is to ensure that the correct information is available, consistent and accessible. I am really happy to see that during this pandemic there has been open discussions and scientists have continued to share information as the vaccines were developed and approved. There has been openness in terms of data regarding the numbers and the vaccine roll out. This consistent communication allows the public to know what is coming and prevents conspiratory theories from developing! We are also constantly innovating and adapting to the new challenges – developing chatbots, mobile apps, working with young people as online activists and agents of change – in other words, making the best use of the opportunities that the digital environment provides for our collective safely, while minimizing the risk factors. Expect very soon some exciting news from us in this regard.
What is your message to the people of Bulgaria?
I know we are all feeling pandemic fatigues – we all want this to be over, and the only way to get there faster is through the vaccine, otherwise the struggle of people will be prolonged. Mobilization and collective motivation is needed. We are in the middle of serious crisis that requires the efforts of each one of us. I would like to urge the people of Bulgaria to respond together to tackle COVID-19. There are preventive measures that protect us and stop transmission of the virus and now we have effective vaccines that will reduce disease severity and stop transmission. If we all play our part we have a chance to defeat the virus!