COVID vaccine hesitancy high among Ghana’s religious leaders

A study has established the growth of vaccine hesitancy among the Ghanaian population.

He reported that religious leaders, compared to all categories of priority populations sampled for the survey, had a high rate of hesitation. Some 57% of religious leaders sampled would not accept the vaccine.

Vaccine hesitancy, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines. It was ranked among the top 10 threats to global health in 2019.

Reasons for their reluctance to take the hit have been attributed to their mistrust in the origin of the vaccine, lack of trust in political leaders leading the fight against the pandemic, or lack of knowledge about vaccine development.

In the study, a charismatic leader lamented his distrust of the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine received by the president. He reportedly said, “I have doubts whether what he (the president) received was the vaccine or something else. Politicians don’t tell the truth. There is no truth in Ghana. It might not have been the COVID-19 vaccine that was given to the president, but rather a completely different injection; it could even be just water.

Another survey conducted also revealed that doubts about the efficacy of the vaccine, its side effects, conspiracy theories and fertility issues were some of the reasons for respondents’ reluctance to receive the vaccine in Ghana.

Dr Yaw Bediako, a researcher at the West African Center for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), told the Alliance for Science that misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 have spread easily from movements anti-vax abroad to Africa with the help of social media. According to him, both educated and uneducated people have become susceptible to this misinformation.

“When we talk about childhood vaccinations, there is a lot of hesitation in some countries. Luckily in Ghana we don’t really have that. Everyone agrees to their child being vaccinated,” he said. “Infants are being vaccinated at a very high rate, but the hesitation we are seeing with COVID-19 is because we are asking adults to get vaccinated. And I think people are a bit sensitive to some of the misinformation that comes from overseas.

COVID-19 vaccines have been available in the country since March 2021 and the Ghana Health Service (GHS) is leading the education, vaccination plan and distribution of COVID-19.

Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, Director General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), at the recent launch of a COVID-19 vaccination risk communication and awareness campaign, said that only 25% of the target population are fully immunized, despite the efforts of stakeholders. towards the vaccination campaign. He said that although vaccination has been the number one achievement in pandemic control in the history of public health in Ghana, many people have decided not to get vaccinated due to misinformation and others. different beliefs.

Data from the GHS website indicates that the total number of vaccine doses administered was 18,954,667 as of August 19.

According to Bediako, while the service and the government have tried to educate the public about the pandemic, another challenge has been the lack of clarity and consistency in messaging.

“So you’re sending a mixed message if on the one hand you’re trying to tell people it’s okay, and on the other hand you’re telling them it’s a deadly disease and they should go back to the protocols of security,” Bediako said. “I think there have been attempts, probably for economic reasons, to reassure people and help them think that everything is under control. But at the same time, if you overdo it, they wonder why they need to be vaccinated.”

Because of this, the GHS is struggling to get people to get vaccinated even though there are vaccines available, he said.

In other African countries, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy also remains a challenge. Research from PATH, a global team of innovators working to accelerate health equity, reported massive vaccine hesitancy in Kenya, despite millions of shots being administered across the country. Vaccine hesitancy stemmed from people’s suspicions about a lack of transparency on the part of officials, fear of the harmful effects of myths and misinformation, and a lack of confidence in the vaccine among agents. health.

“I think the best way to solve the Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy is to use human-centered design (HCD),” said Steve Osumba, head of design and innovation at PATH. . “We need to fully understand the root causes and adapt strategies to combat them. Through the collaboration between PATH and Dalberg, we used HCD to identify opportunities that, if explored, would help address Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy. The study is available to the public to give anyone interested in helping solve this challenge a head start.

Additionally, Bediako recommended that the approach to COVID-19 education be changed from being fear-based and being COVID-19 specific to a general message that addresses vaccination as a whole.

“Like I said, a lot of people are in the habit of having their children immunized against the killer diseases of childhood, as we called them. So we need to make education less specific to COVID-19 and try to link that to the current vaccination campaign against COVID-19. We need to do better to make people understand that vaccination is nothing new, mysterious or dangerous. And if we can do that, we can achieve high vaccination rates. »

He noted that to respond more quickly to emerging threats, “we need to have a strong research ecosystem and improve public research funding. We will miss the point if we simply focus on making vaccines without realizing the need for an entire research ecosystem.

“Also, I think some religious leaders have not helped the situation, although there are others who have been very supportive of vaccinations. So, I think we have to be careful not to label all religious leaders as contributors to hesitation,” he concluded.

Image: A woman receives the COVID vaccine in Ghana. Photo: WHO


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