GABORONE, Botswana — Data collectors are spreading out through five African nations to conduct a survey for four weeks to see how people feel about a COVID-19 vaccine, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
After months of preparation, teams in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Côte d'Ivoire, and Nigeria took to the field to gauge the perceptions of communities as part of the Africa COVID-19 Vaccine Perceptions Survey.
At his weekly press briefing last week, Nkengasong stressed that understanding perceptions and community engagement is essential, as they will help determine the continent’s vaccine uptake strategy.
“We need to know what exactly our communities think about this vaccine. … This information will shape the way we engage them.”— Dr. Raji Tajudeen, head of the division of public health institutes and research, Africa CDC
“The world has never vaccinated more than 500 million people in a year, and this will require that we find innovative ways to expand the vaccines using existing health care systems. This is not another typhoid fever vaccination or another polio vaccination; this is really going to be a community vaccination, so we need community engagement,” he said.
Dr. Raji Tajudeen, head of the division of public health institutes and research at the Africa CDC, told Devex that the survey is part of a strategy on COVID-19 vaccine development and access that was decided upon by African leaders at a virtual conference in June.
“We know that the COVID-19 pandemic is something that has affected every sphere of our life, and we know that the only thing that can restore normalcy is the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. We also know that the availability of a safe and effective vaccine is not enough if there is no adequate uptake,” he said.
Tajudeen added that the results from the survey, which will be finalized in the next two months, would give African nations a better understanding of the perceived risks and benefits of a vaccine. This will be essential when formulating a community engagement and uptake strategy.
Following the Africa Union launch of the Consortium for COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trial, this op-ed looks at the complexities of community engagement and how it can be achieved.
“We are collecting this data to enable us to define the strategy that will be deployed, as far as the COVID-19 vaccine uptake is concerned. We need to know what exactly our communities think about this vaccine. … This information will shape the way we engage them,” he said.
He also discussed the importance of public perceptions and the potential effects they could have on vaccine uptake.
“Perceptions are very important. Vaccine hesitancy is something that is growing globally. This is just not with the COVID-19 vaccine, but it was present even before COVID-19,” he said.
“We know the sentiment that some people have against some of the common childhood vaccines, so for the COVID-19 vaccine, it is really important for us to understand what is the confidence level and what is the hesitancy that is there.”