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How do you challenge the misinformation pandemic? Here's how. 15 ways to promote the Covid vaccine

Updated: May 3, 2021

My musings this month are an exploration of how people in different countries pass on the message about keeping safe with Covid. Also the methods of providing advice in different languages to support understanding, contradict misinformation, and consequently increase uptake of the vaccines.

There is longstanding concern in the UK as regards the health inequalities, now magnified by circulation of misinformation, for example, about the negative effect of the COVID vaccines impacting take-up amongst Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) populations. So how can we learn from others ideas and practice?

Here is a list of 15 examples of approaches from across the world including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, reaching out in a YouTube video during his vaccination.

  1. One doctor filmed a video of himself talking about vaccines in Urdu, to reach his local community in Hackney East London. He said "It's not just about social media. It's about newsletters, leaf letters and community engagement. And in closed communities especially, word of mouth matters.''

  2. BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) celebrities featured in a video reinforcing the message to have the vaccine and providing helpful information to challenge false beliefs. “Unfortunately we are now fighting another pandemic: misinformation,” said the actor Adil Ray, star of 'Citizen Khan' TV series.

  3. In addition British black cross party MPs, including James Cleverly, Diane Abbott, Nadhim Zahawi and David Lammy, took part in a moving video, some sharing their family losses due to Covid, whilst encouraging vaccination uptake.

  4. Dr Iram Sattar, a London supporter of Muslim Women’s Network UK, devised resources with the organisation (videos in English, Punjabi and Urdu) to challenge the “malicious misinformation out there”, particularly on social media e.g. WhatsApp.

  5. Local Councillor Aftab Razaq (Whalley Range, Manchester) received the vaccination at the local cricket club and his photo was tweeted by fellow Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar encouraging the community to book up for their vaccine since ”The only way to increase uptake is to quell these rumours''. Councillor Rabnawas Akbar (Rusholme) explained: “A few years back The University of Manchester did a survey on Wilmslow Road and found that at any one time there are over 90 languages and dialects being spoken'. This outlines the challenge for British cities , where community and faith leaders respond daily to moral and religious questions. Across the country temples, mosques, churches and gurdwaras are hosting vaccination centres.

  6. North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust medical and pharmacy staff recorded videos in Mandarin, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi as well as English. Deepak Dwarakanath, medical director explained, “Recording these appeals for social media, that can be easily shared or shown to family members on the phone, is a quick and easy way to reach people in different communities.” The trust are asking the local BAME community to develop and share their own positive video messages about having the vaccine.

  7. In America, an article by Dr Jay Bhat and Jon Brownstein emphasises 'it is essential that we combine our vaccination efforts with our efforts to persuade people that COVID vaccines are safe, effective and essential to their health.' Ideas include clear, understandable posters in many different languages, explaining Covid terminology, placed clearly about local communities e.g. bus stops and churches. They also have multilingual staff working at vaccination centres, so they could easily answer questions from the community.

  8. I am reading the Three letter plague by the journalist and author Jonny Steinberg. Within this he reported that staff from Médecins Sans Frontières a humanitarian health organisation, spent useful time with the South African village community before and after testing to answer their questions about AIDS.

  9. UNICEF report that in Kroonstad, in South Africa, large trucks with lit up screens send out 'messages, which are tailored for different areas and languages.' Red Cross workers then follow in their minibuses, getting out to display posters, and talk to the community, including taxi drivers.

  10. In London, the artist Peter Wayne, who was in prison during 2020, painted murals to promote COVID awareness in his prison cell, since he was unable to paint as usual on the prison walls, due to lockdown.

  11. Medadi E. Ssentanda, a member of the Ugandan Makerere University research team highlights a World Health Organization concern that 'Especially under stress, even people fluent in a community’s dominant language need clear, reliable health information in their own tongue'. “People are not following the [coronavirus guidelines] because they don’t know what to do, and this makes them vulnerable to infections.” Uganda has over 50+ languages , so the research team whittled their Covid 19 messaging down to 6 languages (also Braille). However, ''words such as “sanitizer” could not be translated, but ''for “running water,” they used a symbol of someone washing hands with water from a jerry can — a familiar ritual, especially for rural Ugandans.''

  12. The UK Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) created and translated a coronavirus poster for farmworkers into Welsh and 7 Eastern European languages.

  13. In Nevada (Western USA) there is a call centre, with speakers of English, Spanish and other languages to help to book vaccinations and answer queries.

  14. In Coachella Valley (Colorado, Southern California) where a third speak Spanish, there are a multiplicity of approaches. From working with community and faith based organisations to talk about Covid prevention, in a literally 'grassroots approach' by going to those working in the fields. They have used Spanish radio and TV shows, and 'weekly Facebook Live briefings with a Spanish-speaking doctor and a Spanish-speaking county spokesperson....People can use Google Translate to access the county’s vaccination registration page in Spanish; those who need assistance making an appointment can call 2-1-1 and speak in Spanish with a representative'.

  15. Dr Catalan (Public Health) suggested asking 'prominent figures, celebrities and athletes to help in the campaign' following on from vaccinated social media influencers who were 'asked to spread the word about the vaccine'. She emphasised the importance of clearly explaining how having the vaccine benefits the public good, so that lives can then return to normal, thereby 'nudging' people's behaviours.

This list is not exhaustive, even though I am, there will be many more examples. Pease let me know your thoughts!

This article expresses the personal views and interpretation of Carolyn M Holmes