Government’s communication around vaccines has been found wanting and the devastating results are visible for all to see. Misinformation (fake news) and speculation thrives in the absence of credible information.
Instead, we have runaway infection numbers, over 1 070 deaths, another lockdown, schools closed in the epicentre and serious vaccine hesitancy that has the ability to scupper plans to return to some semblance of normality any time soon.
When New Era spoke to the executive director of the ministry of information about government’s communication strategy and plan around the vaccines this week, the reaction was underwhelming but not surprising.
“The chiefs are hard at work generating that information. I can’t say when it will be rolled out, but very soon,” said Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakana.
Government has dropped the ball on communicating effectively, efficiently and timeously on the availability, usefulness and importance of the Covid-19 vaccines. It should have gone into crisis communication mode as soon as the vaccines became a possibility.
Young people this week rightfully called on government to apply the same strategies around its TB and other immunisation campaigns to get the word out, to dispel the conspiracy theories and to convince Namibians to take the vaccine.
We still only have just over 17 000 fully vaccinated people by this week, three months after the vaccine programme stuttered into gear.
Namibia won worldwide admiration for its communication after the first few cases were detected in March 2020. The government information centre was established with twice-daily updates, including on weekends. The daily updates were later reduced to once during weekdays, which was stream and broadcast live on various platforms of both the public and private media. But the centre has been dormant since mid-April when the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation workers went on a month-long strike. It had also, by then just became a dumping ground for all kinds of irrelevant information and a useless talk shop.
Is it a surprise that we’ve gone into the deadliest wave since the centre went off air?
This week once again showed that the ministry of health’s communications is the last thing they think about. Wednesday’s daily update with a record number of positive cases and deaths were only received yesterday morning. The WhatsApp group through which the ministry’s staff and the media communicate has become a hotbed of unanswered questions and complaints.
If journalists are hamstrung in disseminating the information, the nation suffers.
We should, however, compliment the minister and the executive director for being accessible to the media.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a Vaccine Safety Communication Guide for Immunisation Programme Managers and National Regulatory Authorities. The document helps immunisation programme managers and national regulatory authorities address the need for proactive and responsive communication on vaccine safety. It offers practical approaches, tips and tools to enable programme managers to proactively engage stakeholders in planning, implementing, managing, monitoring and evaluating, and documenting communication interventions around vaccine safety issues and immunisation.