Preventing an infodemic ahead of a new vaccine rollout
In a world with Covid, what’s the best way to introduce a new vaccine to fight Polio?
When most people hear about vaccination campaigns to end Polio – the crippling disease of the 1950s – they often wonder ‘isn’t that already eradicated?’ It’s true, wild polio virus has been eliminated from nearly every country in the world, except for two.
So why are countries across Africa continuing to hold polio vaccination campaigns? And what can be done to support the smooth roll-out of a new vaccine approved by the same Emergency Use Listing mechanism as the Covid vaccines? UNICEF called on us to help work with key countries to ensure misinformation campaigns didn’t derail the introduction of the new Polio vaccine.
All polio cases in West and Central Africa are due to circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV). This is the final strain of polio remaining on the African continent, and these outbreaks are rare. Over the past ten years, 10 billion doses of oral polio vaccine were given worldwide, and fewer than 800 cases of cVDPV have occurred.
Outbreaks of cVDPV are usually rapidly stopped with 2-3 rounds of high quality vaccination campaigns with OPV
What We Heard
There’s two kinds of polio virus. Wild Polio Virus (WPV) is a naturally occurring form of poliovirus. Circulating Vaccine Derived Polio Virus (cVDPV) is derived, as the name suggests, from an oral polio vaccine, known as OPV.
OPV has been used in every country of the world for 60 years. It uses live, weakened versions of the virus to stimulate a natural immune response. This vaccine is responsible for eliminating polio in 99.9% of the world. However, in rare circumstances where sanitation and routine immunization standards are poor, the vaccine-virus can mutate, spread and infect unvaccinated people. This has been occurring more frequently in recent years.
A new, more stable, vaccine – nOPV 2 – has been developed to prevent this vaccine-derived version of the virus from emerging and spreading. It is anticipated to be the best and final tool required to eradicate all forms of polio from the earth once and for all.
You can see how this might be a difficult thing to explain to people. Particularly in a context of severe distrust, and as conspiracy theories and misinformation about Covid vaccines are being liked, tweeted, and shared at dizzying rates — both online and offline.
We partnered with First Draft, a global leader in dealing with misinformation to build the skills of countries to respond, while we worked with four priority countries to support offline rumor monitoring and social behaviour change strategies that work.
Working with the Ministry of Health, WHO and UNICEF offices from Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo-Brazzaville, and Liberia, we worked to link existing off and online rumor management systems to practical global expertise.
On a broader scale, our learnings will directly contribute to the development of UNICEF’s Global Vaccine Demand Observatory, which aims to lead the charge in fighting health misinformation by equipping countries with the tools, training and technical support they need to manage future infodemics.
The challenge now will be to ensure rumors at community levels are also collected, analysed and that on- and off-line response is coordinated and matched to local needs.