The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded nearly $6.5 million to the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs to promote the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines across 13 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In 2020, USAID awarded the CCP-led Breakthrough ACTION project more than $12 million to aid 22 countries in their efforts to encourage behaviors designed to prevent the spread of the disease, including handwashing, mask-wearing and keeping a safe distance from others. The effort reached more than one billion people with COVID-19 messages.
The newest work under the umbrella of Breakthrough ACTION is designed to motivate vaccine uptake, as well as address the hesitancy some people may have about receiving COVID-19 vaccines, which are considered safe and effective at controlling the deadly SARS-COV-2 virus, which has killed more than 2.9 million people worldwide and sickened at least 133 million.
In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, confidence in the vaccine spans the continuum: from those who are ready to get inoculated, to those who simply want to learn more about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, to those who just haven’t decided, to those who refuse to be vaccinated. Experts say that between 70 and 85 percent of people in a location need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity, or enough immunity in the population to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
CCP research, conducted since July with MIT, WHO and Facebook, has found that, in many countries, vaccine acceptance is significantly lower than what is needed to reach herd immunity.
“Ending the pandemic relies on people’s behaviors and their willingness to get vaccinated,” says Alice Payne Merritt, MPH, CCP’s deputy director and leader of its COVID-19 work. “When communities accept the vaccine in large enough numbers, we will be able to reduce the threat of COVID-19 and resume our daily lives with confidence. Our work will help to provide the facts about the vaccines, the benefits of the vaccines and how to access the vaccines.”
While more than 710 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, those doses have not been dispensed evenly, according to The New York Times. There are many countries where few if any people have received a single dose.
Breakthrough ACTION’s vaccine acceptance work will be conducted in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, the Philippines, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
Along with creating messages to encourage vaccine uptake, Breakthrough ACTION will monitor and track rumors about COVID-19 vaccines and work to counter them. The project will also conduct rapid research, create communication strategies, provide assistance to governments as they create messages around vaccine benefits to motivate uptake, as well as training local partners and journalists.
“Breakthrough ACTION has been working with many governments to develop social and behavior change programming across health areas,” says CCP’s Elizabeth Serlemitsos, director of the Breakthrough ACTION project. “This work on vaccine acceptance will build on the critical trusted relationships that the Breakthrough ACTION team has with leadership in the countries of implementation.”