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Misinformation, Society and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Investigating COVID-19 Misinformation Among Disenfranchised Communities in Karachi, Pakistan

By: Jamie Minchin, Senior Associate, Vaccine Acceptance and Demand, and Meaghan Charlton, Senior Manager, Vaccine Acceptance

Source: Sabin Vaccine Institute

Around the world, conspiracy theories and misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines are circulating, which has the potential to impact the acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine and disrupt routine immunization. Pakistan in particular has been challenged by COVID-19 rumors and misinformation, alongside disruptions to health care services. However, more research is needed to better understand and address the social drivers of misinformation and its impact on vaccination in specific Pakistan contexts.

To pursue this research, Sabin’s Vaccine Acceptance and Demand initiative is proud to support a collaborative study between Dow University of Health Science and Aga Khan University researchers, led by principal investigator Rubina Qasim. The funding is provided through our Social and Behavioral Interventions for Vaccination Acceptance Small Grants Program.

This project employs a co-design approach to explore the impact of misinformation on the acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine in Karachi, Pakistan, and develop and test a social intervention addressing COVID-19 misinformation in the community.

“Despite our sheer determination and expertise, aiding this disenfranchised community — which is inflicted with poor health literacy and high vaccine refusal — would not be possible without support from Sabin,” said Qasim, a lead researcher and lecturer at Dow University of Health Science. “With this funding, we are now in a position to address COVID-19 misconceptions by designing better solutions with and for the people for vaccine acceptance. The whole team is highly dedicated and excited to get the most out of [these] findings.”

The research stage of the Sabin-funded project will virtually explore and contextualize misinformation, rumors, and fears regarding COVID-19 and vaccination among two community groups: women residing in informal settlements and influential community leaders (religious leaders, politicians, educators, etc.) in Landhi Town, Karachi. Researchers sited their work in Landhi Town since the area is densely populated, deals with poor hygiene and sanitation and has low access to healthcare services. Consequently, the community faces high rates of transmission of vaccine-preventable diseases, alongside historically low immunization coverage. Landhi Town’s low access to immunization professionals and their advising also makes the community particularly vulnerable to the spread of vaccine misinformation.

For the intervention phase of the project, Qasim and the research team will work with otherwise disenfranchised community partners to co-design an intervention addressing misinformation. By working with community partners, the team will be able to pilot an intervention in the local language and tailored to specific local discourses, which will facilitate local buy-in, better reaching the community and ultimately improving community willingness to vaccinate.

Qasim and the research team’s project will help us better understand how and why historically disenfranchised communities experience misinformation in Landhi Town, Karachi. Their research and intervention findings will demonstrate the critical role of engaging communities in the design of vaccination campaigns and its importance in upcoming COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

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