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Value of Vaccines 2020

Misinformation – the growing global vaccine challenge

iStock / Getty Images Plus / fizkes

Anuradha Gupta

Deputy CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

As the demand for a global COVID-19 vaccine grows, increasing challenges emerge on misinformation around vaccinations.

This pandemic, the worst global health crisis in a century, has demonstrated the critical role vaccination has to play in keeping people safe, economies ticking over and threats to global health security at bay.

The fact is, we simply can’t end this crisis without COVID-19 vaccines. But as we race to develop them, this pandemic has also shown that there’s one thing that can spread faster than a virus during a pandemic – misinformation. This has led to what the World Health Organization (WHO) has dubbed an “infodemic” about COVID-19 and vaccines that now represents one of the biggest challenges to bringing this crisis to a swift end.

Vaccines need to be accessible to all

That can only happen if everyone has access to COVID-19 vaccines, regardless of where they live or of their ability to pay. Because until everyone is protected, this coronavirus will continue to spread, and the risk of resurgence will persist. So, not only do we have to develop COVID-19 vaccines that are both safe and effective, but we have to ensure that they are made available to everyone quickly, as soon as they are ready.

This pandemic has also shown that there’s one thing that can spread faster than a virus during a pandemic – misinformation.

That is why Gavi is working with partners to build a model for COVID-19 vaccine distribution which, for the first time in history, will ensure that every country gets access to COVID-19 vaccines at the same time, regardless of wealth.

Together with the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), this multilateral approach aims to avoid the mistakes of the past, such as what happened with swine flu in 2009 where only small number of countries cornered global supply of vaccines.

The most vulnerable can be most at risk of misinformation

But this effort, which has already received expressions of interest from more than 150 countries, and which will effectively be the single biggest vaccine deployment in history, now threatens to be undermined by a tsunami of fake news and misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. This is particularly pernicious because those who are most vulnerable to the pandemic and its economic impacts, the poorest communities with the least level of support, are also where low levels of digital literacy make people more susceptible to misinformation and where limited access to reliable information can help it spread.

Improving digital literacy to reduce misinformation

We urgently need to build resilience to this false information and rebuild confidence in vaccines by raising levels of digital literacy, ensuring easy access to credible information and working with social media platforms, whose algorithms make it so easy for harmful rumours to propagate.

If trust in vaccines is undermined, not only will it hamper our efforts to end the misery and suffering this pandemic has brought, but it also threatens the huge strides we’ve made in recent decades in increasing equitable access to countless other life-saving vaccines. So, if we want to avoid outbreaks of other diseases as well, we need to ensure that everyone has access to vaccines and everyone sees the value of one world, protected.

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