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Giving Compass' Take:
• Wellcome Trust offers key recommendations for increasing vaccine uptake around the world.
• In what ways might "vaccine hesitancy" be misunderstood? Why are local partnerships an important part of successful vaccine distribution plans?
• Read about vaccine hesitancy.
Every year, 1.5 million people lose their lives to diseases that could have been prevented by vaccination. Now, Covid-19 is causing further disruption to immunisation services across the world, placing 80 million children at further risk of diseases that could have been prevented. Here are four strategies for addressing these disruptions and bolstering vaccine uptake worldwide.
1. Remove the practical barriers to vaccination and build resilient immunisation systems
Poor availability of and access to immunisation services are still the biggest barriers for vaccination worldwide – both for the most vulnerable who lack access to basic healthcare services, and in areas where vaccines are available but not convenient. Simple solutions can have a huge impact. For example, phone call reminders can increase vaccination appointments by 18%.
2. Change the way we talk about ‘vaccine hesitancy’
This phrase is easily misinterpreted. It can overemphasise the threat posed by low vaccine confidence and distract from larger issues such as access to immunisation. Instead, it’s important to be specific about the different barriers that stop people getting vaccinated and what can be done to remove them, avoiding tactics like myth-busting and focusing on amplifying positive and accurate information.
3. Strengthen the voices of healthcare workers in presenting vaccination as a social norm
Some of the most powerful and trustworthy voices for increasing vaccine uptake are healthcare workers. They must have the latest evidence-based tools and guidance to feel confident in presenting vaccination as normal and expected.
4. Address the research gap
Most available research relies on evidence from high-income settings. Future research should prioritise understanding what works to improve vaccination rates in different countries and why, with a focus on improving the evidence base for low-and middle-income countries.
In May 2020, data released by WHO, UNICEF, Gavi and the Sabin Institute warned that disruptions to immunisation services due to the pandemic were expected to place 80 million children at unnecessary risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. Further data confirmed that in 85% of the countries surveyed, vaccination rates dropped in May 2020 compared to January-February 2020 with the most common reasons for disruption including a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), travel restrictions, and strains on availability of health workers. 73% of countries also reported a decrease in demand, largely due to concerns about the risk of exposure to COVID-19 or practical barriers such as limited public transport and other physical distancing policies. There is a vital need not only to increase vaccination rates globally, but also to work hard at building resilience into our immunisation systems. Focus should be on maintaining routine immunisation levels globally in an urgent bid to prevent this pandemic from claiming many more lives through secondary outbreaks of other preventable diseases.