Since the beginning of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout, authorities in Namibia have been experimenting with communication strategies to address vaccine hesitancy.
The government, with its partners, is conducting, an intensive public information campaign through traditional and new media, urging people to get vaccinated.
Public figures, including politicians, corporate leaders and influencers have been roped in to bring the message home. Photos of public figures smiling and rolling up their sleeves to get vaccinated have taken up the local media space.
Prominent figures, including health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula and First Lady Monica Geingos, have been pictured receiving their first or second doses of AstraZeneca or Sinopharm vaccines.
They have been using the media, including their social media to share their experiences of getting vaccinated.
The success of the national vaccination programme depends on public acceptance of the vaccines.
But the current communication strategy of putting up politicians and elites as poster boys for coronavirus jabs needs more refining.
The government faces a herculean task in its campaign to vaccinate over 700 000 Namibians by the end of September 2021.
For many people, rejecting the vaccines is a form of protest against elected officials whom they blame for their suffering.
Public health measures including lockdowns, social distancing and curfews have been effective at saving lives but also negatively affected people’s livelihoods.
And this is what makes people frustrated. People especially in rural areas and informal settlements in cities have long experienced neglect at the hands of state institutions.
With such little trust, any well-meant effort like the Covid-19 vaccination can fall by the wayside. It will be difficult for the government to convince people to embrace vaccines.
With the government ramping up the vaccination campaign countrywide, traditional leaders and community leaders like religious leaders must be brought into play.
They can be an important asset at shoring up public confidence in vaccines. In most cases, modernists who craft communication strategies to drive national effort are often oblivious of the influence that traditional leaders have over their communities.
With the advent of democracy, state officials seem to think that traditional leaders have no place in modern society.
Therefore, it is important to seriously engage traditional leaders.
They are in more contact with the people compared to politicians and elites that come for occasional sojourns.
Traditional leaders do not have access to the tax dollar, so the trust that they command is earned.
Trust in this old-age power structure is unwavering because community leaders are always there on the ground with the people in every situation.
This is why communities will rally behind their traditional institutions than state institutions and elected officials.
As such, they can be a powerful ally in swaying public perception toward the coronavirus vaccines.
Let them lead the Covid-19 vaccination campaign in their respective communities.
By doing so will go a long way in restoring public trust in government.
As Covid-19 vaccination rolls into traditional jurisdictions, let community leaders take over – by spreading the positive messages about the coronavirus vaccines. They have been proved efficient in sensitising their communities in times of emergencies.
That makes them a reliable weapon to battle vaccine hesitancy, and the disinformation campaign that is threatening to derail the national effort against the Covid-19 pandemic.