NEW YORK, New York — A “Strengthening the Health Workforce to Reach Global Immunization Goals” conference was hosted by the CSIS Bipartisan Alliance for Global Health Security. The event featured experts from organizations like the Global Health Policy Center, the Sabin Vaccine Institute, USAID and the Immunization Center at JSI. Speakers discussed crucial global health questions and highlighted strategies to increase immunization rates and strengthen health care systems worldwide.
They also analyzed the impact of digital platforms on the medical profession. US global health aid efforts have focused on giving countries the capacity to procure vaccines rather than helping prepare the countries’ health care systems and medical workforce to administer the vaccines to individuals of all ages.
Populations also have to be primed to receive vaccines through different informational campaigns. The experts touched on the importance of developing health care systems capable of delivering emergency pandemic-related vaccinations like those necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic while maintaining the distribution of routine vaccinations. The application of these experts’ different thoughts and theories on how to increase immunization rates is best exemplified by the U.N.’s vaccination efforts in Zambia, Iraq, Ghana and India.
The Takeaways of UN Vaccination Initiatives
A comprehensive analysis led by the Sabin Institute broke down the main takeaways from the U.N. vaccination initiatives. In partnership with local experts and governments, the U.N. formulated strategies to increase immunization rates by considering the regional factors inhibiting vaccinations, including populations’ general response to vaccines. In Zambia, U.N. workers focused on reducing vaccine hesitancy, creating more trust in health care and using trusted and respected spokespeople like religious leaders, influencers and government agencies. In Iraq, a place with high rates of vaccine resistance, UNICEF partnered with the Ministry of Health of Iraq to increase immunization.
The U.N. implanted vaccination teams in every primary care center in Iraq. Using these centers as a base, the teams traveled to specific communities and neighborhoods with mobile clinics. Each team consisted of health care professionals and a community mobilizer who patrolled the area or village around the mobile clinic. By going house to house, stopping people in the street and speaking to families, the mobilizers successfully created trust, informing locals about the vaccine and encouraging them to visit the mobile clinic.
As a result, 4.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines and other routine vaccinations were delivered to different areas in Iraq. In Ghana, studies demonstrated that most of the population was willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine but would not seek out the vaccination sites if they were not easily and readily available. As such, to increase vaccination rates, UNICEF increased advertisements for the vaccine centers through flyers and outreach campaigns. The most problematic immunization barrier in India was vaccination hesitancy created by rumors and disinformation.
U.N. officials found that one effective solution consisted of including volunteer helpers from the local community in vaccination initiatives as volunteers. Their familiarity with the residents helped create a bond of trust with the local community. During their time in India, U.N. officials also worked to increase access to vaccine centers by providing transport.
The U.N.’s initiatives effectively increased immunization in all four countries. With the focus on vaccinations against COVID-19, families’ apprehension to frequent medical centers for fear of exposure, and growing misinformation about vaccines, the post-pandemic years were characterized by the most significant decline in childhood immunizations in 30 years.
Twenty-five million children missed one or more doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3), a marker for immunization coverage. To achieve the 2023 immunization agenda, experts are calling for governmental initiatives to catch up on vaccinations and build more rapport of trust with the community to reduce the vaccination hesitancy created by the pandemic. The U.N.’s successful vaccine initiatives can undoubtedly provide crucial insights on how to conduct these catch-up vaccination efforts.
Digital Technologies’ Vital Role in Ensuring Global Health
Experts from the conference also described the importance of including digital technologies in strategies to increase immunization rates. Their addition to the world of health care has presented some issues, yet they have also had a tremendously positive impact on disseminating crucial global health information. Health crises or disasters are characterized by “infodemics,” a significant increase in the information shared relating to the situation on social media and other networks.
One such “infodemic” occurred in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the widespread dissemination of misinformation or false information. One of the most important sources of misinformation is WhatsApp groups and Facebook communities – where people reinforce one another’s misinformed narratives — which are also among health care providers’ biggest strengths.
Indeed, during the pandemic, WhatsApp kept health care providers connected through regional WhatsApp groups. Telegram and WhatsApp groups enabled younger health workers to ask for expertise easily. The more frequent use of remote learning tools like webinars bridged knowledge gaps. More health professionals are also backing up their decision-making with Google searches and accessing academic articles online. Digital platforms helped efficiently catalog vaccination rates and pinpoint the factors preventing populations from accessing vaccines.
– Tatiana Gnuva