A Compendium on Empowering African Youth to Drive Vaccine Uptake: The VAMRIS Perspective

By Dr. Frankline SEVIDZEM WIRSIY Associate Director | Global Public Health and Development | Africa

The VAMRIS perspective i.e.- Vaccine Hesitancy, Attitude and Uptake by Healthcare Workers, Misinformation, Religious Fanaticism, Immunization Rollout Plans, and Social Influences and Environment –are key determinants that shape vaccine acceptability in Africa. By adopting the VAMRIS perspective, we can better understand and address these factors to drive vaccine uptake across the continent.

V = Vaccine Hesitancy:

Vaccine hesitancy which is delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services is a complex issue in Africa, influenced by several factors. However, empowering youth to become vaccine ambassadors and actively address concerns and misinformation can play a pivotal role in overcoming hesitancy. Let’s encourage open dialogue, provide accurate information, and build trust in vaccines.

A = Attitude and Uptake by Healthcare Workers:

The positive attitudes and vaccine uptake by healthcare workers have a significant impact on patients’ decisions. As young healthcare professionals, you have the power to inspire trust and confidence in vaccines. Your commitment to vaccination and willingness to lead by example can greatly influence vaccine acceptance among the wider population.

M = Misinformation:

In the era of “Infodemics,” combating vaccine misinformation is critical. As tech-savvy youth, you possess the ability to navigate the digital landscape and counter false narratives. Let’s take charge by sharing accurate information through social media, blogs, and other platforms. By becoming reliable sources of knowledge, we can debunk myths and promote evidence-based vaccine information.

R = Religious Fanaticism:

Religious beliefs and values hold significant influence in Africa. Engaging with religious leaders and communities, addressing their concerns, and highlighting the compatibility of vaccines with religious teachings can foster acceptance. Youth can play a vital role in bridging the gap between science and faith, promoting dialogue, and dispelling misconceptions surrounding vaccines.

I = Immunization Rollout Plans:

Immunization rollout plans must be inclusive, convenient, and address the specific needs of African communities. As young advocates, you can contribute to these plans by actively participating in discussions, sharing feedback, and ensuring vaccine accessibility in underserved areas. Let’s work together to ensure vaccines “go to” the people who need them the most.

S = Social Influences and Environment:

The power of social influence cannot be underestimated. As youth, you have a strong voice and the ability to shape opinions and behaviors within your communities. Leveraging your social networks, organizing awareness campaigns, and partnering with local influencers can create a supportive environment for vaccine uptake.

Let’s amplify positive stories, encourage vaccine conversations, and celebrate vaccination as a collective achievement.

As we navigate the challenges of COVID-19 post-pandemic, it is imperative to recognize the vital role that youth play in driving vaccine uptake and creating lasting positive change in Africa. The energy, passion, and innovative thinking of young people are essential in addressing vaccine hesitancy and increasing immunization coverage across the continent. Africa, with its burgeoning youth population, presents a unique opportunity to leverage the power of young individuals as catalysts for widespread vaccine acceptance. By actively involving youth in vaccination efforts, we tap into their ability to mobilize communities, influence peers, and reshape attitudes towards immunization.

A success story is that of the AU Bingwa Initiative. In April 2022, the chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) officially launched an African Union public-private-youth initiative co-led by Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention under the name “African Union COVID-19 Vaccination Bingwa Initiative”. Bingwa is the Swahili word for “Champion”. This initiative has establish a growing network of COVID-19 vaccination youth champions across the continent; who are accelerating the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination as well as guadually supporting the surveillance and mass campaigns/awareness for Zero dose and under-immunized children.

Engaging youth in vaccine promotion initiatives brings multiple benefits:

– First, young people are adept at harnessing the potential of technology and social media platforms, enabling them to reach diverse audiences and disseminate accurate information about vaccines. Their digital fluency allows for creative communication strategies that resonate with their peers, driving awareness and dispelling misinformation.

– Moreover, youth are powerful advocates within their communities. Their enthusiasm and commitment inspire trust and can counter vaccine hesitancy by sharing personal experiences and promoting the importance of vaccination. By empowering young individuals as ambassadors, we harness their influence to foster positive attitudes and drive vaccine acceptance among their peers and community members.

– To unlock the full potential of youth engagement in driving vaccine uptake, collaboration and partnership is crucial. International organizations, Non-governmental organizations, Governments, public health institutions, civil society organizations, and youth-led initiatives must work together to develop tailored approaches that address the unique challenges faced by African communities. This collaboration ensures that the perspectives and needs of youth are taken into account, making interventions more effective and sustainable.

– Investing in youth-led initiatives and providing them with the necessary resources, training, and platforms for advocacy is a strategic step towards achieving widespread vaccine uptake. Supporting youth-led organizations and fostering partnerships between the public and private sectors create an enabling environment for youth to drive change and amplify their impact. With this done under a monitoring and evaluation framework, ensures accountability while tracking the progress of vaccination campaigns and filling identified gaps via evidenced based actions.

Investing in African youths is crucial for global health security. These African youths who are considered ‘buds of hope’, should also be part and parcel of Africa’s leverage for resources for its Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing framework for action [a call to manufacture 60% of vaccines required by African populations to be made in Africa by 2040—up to 1.7 billion doses annually]. Furthermore, as we welcome the 18 million doses of the first-ever malaria vaccine allocated to 12 African countries for 2023–2025; championed by GAVI, WHO and UNICEF, the active involvement of youth in driving these vaccines uptake in Africa is not just desirable but essential. By empowering young people as key stakeholders in immunization efforts, we can create a brighter and healthier future for Africa. Let us seize this opportunity to tap into the potential of youth and work together towards achieving universal vaccine coverage, protecting our communities, and ensuring a resilient and thriving continent.

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