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Misinformation, Society and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Ugandan Research Team To Study COVID-19 Misinformation in Buikwe District

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

Source: Sabin Vaccine Institute

Like much of the world, Uganda has been impacted by misinformation circulating about COVID-19 and the vaccines fighting the virus. Baseline survey research exploring COVID-19 misinformation in the Ugandan context demonstrated that respondents believed mortality would be highest among white people residing outside Africa. To better understand and address the origin and spread of this misinformation, more research is needed within the country at the community-level.

Sabin’s Vaccine Acceptance and Demand initiative is proud to support researchers from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, in conducting a virtual research project and intervention in the Buikwe District of central Uganda. The funding is provided through our Social and Behavioral Interventions for Vaccination Acceptance Small Grants Program.

Sharing a southern border with Tanzania, the Buikwe District contends with a flux of migration and trade, which has likely contributed to its high levels of community level COVID-19 transmission. The project, led by co-investigators Dr. Freddy Kitutu and Jacquellyn Ssanyu, will explore the spread of misinformation and its social drivers in the border community to inform an intervention addressing circulated misinformation.

“Vaccination remains one of the most cost-effective public health interventions,” said Dr. Kitutu, a lecturer of health systems, pharmacist, and researcher and dean of the School of Health Sciences at Makerere University. “Addressing demand-side barriers that fuel vaccine hesitancy to a potential COVID-19 vaccine is imperative.”

In their research, the team will determine the prevalence of COVID-19 misinformation and explore the effect of COVID-19 misinformation on vaccine acceptance in Buikwe District. The team will then use these research findings to develop a dialogue-based intervention, in which they will mobilize and empower community members to spread alternative messaging. Social mobilization approaches have proven effective in reducing vaccine hesitancy and increasing vaccine uptake in low-resource contexts by using existing social capital to mobilize local resources and increase community ownership and participation in the intervention. The team will engage local influencers, such as traditional healers and religious leaders, who already have deep local ties and are trusted community members. These trusted leaders will disseminate and engage others in messaging that counters prevalent COVID-19 misinformation. The team will then explore the effectiveness of this dialogue-based approach in the Buikwe District.

The Makerere University team’s research will help us better understand both the role of misinformation in a low-resource, border community, and the effectiveness of addressing this misinformation by engaging trusted community leaders and empowering local ownership of health interventions. Their research findings will help us better understand how acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine is contingent upon engaging the local communities it impacts.

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