By Brittany Hackett, Senior Manager, Communications, Vaccine Acceptance & Demand, and Elizabeth Kohlway, MPH, Senior Manager, Community Building & Digital Engagement

Since it began more than one year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted life in ways big and small around the world, from limiting travel and economic growth to changing how we interact with our families, friends, colleagues and communities. Health workers around the world are on the frontlines of pandemic response continuing to provide necessary health care services for their patients and communities, working to restore routine immunization efforts, and fight against the growing tide of misinformation and hesitancy around vaccines in general and COVID-19 vaccines in particular.

This week, the world is celebrating World Immunization Week from April 24-30 with the theme “Vaccines Bring us Closer.” Sabin’s Vaccine Acceptance & Demand initiative and Boost Community recognize the vital work health care workers and immunization professionals in low- and middle-income countries are doing to bring their communities closer to a world free from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Through our work and the work of our partners, we see the substantive efforts health workers make to improve immunization access and acceptance in their communities, and the impact they have on lives across the globe. Below are interviews with two Boost Community members who are working to address vaccine acceptance in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic . We hope their stories will inspire others to do their part to bring the world closer to ending the COVID-19 pandemic and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Attahir Abubakar, Nigeria

Attahir Abubakar supports the Zamfara State Primary Healthcare Board on routine immunization service delivery, working primarily with rural communities where the health-seeking behaviors are low, a problem that has been exacerbated by COVID-19. He notes that hospital turnout for all health services has declined in the pandemic and that observation of COVID-19 safety protocols is “very poor” in the communities where he works.

An immunization professional checks a hild health card to verify immunization status in Nigeria.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, people became more scared to visit the health facility for services, either treatment of ailment or immunization,” Abubakar said, adding that hesitancy and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccination is a growing challenge that is impacting visits to health facilities.

In an effort to address misinformation in Nigeria, risk communication strategies have been developed and communities are constantly being engaged in messaging campaigns about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. “There is general fear in most of the communities, and the fear is not of contracting the virus but fear of being vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine,” he said.

An active member of the Boost Community, Abubakar’s work in a recent Adaptive Leadership training has helped him understand the nuances in leadership and how to relate with colleagues at various levels in solving complex immunization challenges. When working with his community, Abubakar focuses on “making people understand the importance of vaccination, [including taking] responsibility in ensuring all eligible children are vaccinated appropriately [as well as] taking the lead in creating deman for immunization."

Martha Ngoe, Cameroon

A volunteer at the Commencement of activities to commemorate World Immunization Week in Buea, SW region, Cameroon, on April 24, 2021.

Since the pandemic started in March, 2020 in Cameroon, there has been significant disruption to the health care system in the South West Region of Cameroon, including immunization services, according to Marth Ngoe, the Bureau chief for international vaccination and travelling medicine at the Ministry of Public Health’s International Vaccination Center (sub-national level).

“Caregivers became reluctant to go for their appointments to health facilities for fear of contracting the disease. Even outreach services were not really effective as caregivers were not prepared to come in contact with health care workers for the same reason as above,” Ngoe said. “This, coupled with the insecurity in most parts of the region which has lasted for more than six years, [has resulted in] a drop in the immunization coverage.”

Several vaccine hesitancy-related challenges have been around introducing the COVID-19 vaccine to health care workers, who have been deemed a priority group for vaccination for the consignment of the COVID-19 vaccines received in the country. “Many health workers still don’t take the disease that serious and don’t see the need for the vaccine,” Ngoe said.

Immunization stakeholders in the community Ngoe serves “are working hand in glove” to ensure routine vaccination continues for children and adults, including through a campaign to commemorate World Immunization Week. In addition, Ngoe and her colleagues are advocating for health care workers to be trained on effective communication strategies to fight misinformation and strengthen vaccine acceptance.

“We are advocating for health workers, irrespective of their levels in the health pyramid, to be provided with the right information—in real time [and] in clear language that can be easily understood,” Ngoe said.

A Boost Community member since May 2020, Ngoe cites the knowledge and skills gained through the community as having a positive impact on her work, including trainings in community engagement adaptive leadership and storytelling. “It has been wonderful since I joined the Boost Community, with knowledge and skills gained from one course to another and from one training to another, helping me to impact lives through immunization,” Ngoe said.

Engage and Learn with Sabin

Sabin’s Vaccine Acceptance & Demand initiative and Boost Community offer health workers and immunization professionals numerous tools and resources to address vaccine hesitancy among their colleagues, patients and communities, including:

  • Resource hubs for health care workers, offered through Immunization Advocates in English, Spanish and Russian
  • An online course, available in English, Russian and Spanish, designed to assist health workers in reviewing the fundamental aspects of vaccines and immunization
  • A robust and diverse community of practice for immunization professionals through the online Boost Community platform
  • Frequent virtual engagements and trainings that address topics such as COVID-19 vaccine introduction, community mobilization, supportive supervision and more.