Keeping Vaccination in the Conversation
Vaccines do not save lives; vaccinations save lives.
This statement has never been more pertinent as the COVID-19 pandemic brings about a backslide in routine immunizations, leaving children and adults at risk for vaccine-preventable illnesses, including diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Many cross-sectoral actors play a role in achieving vaccination; from research and development (R&D) scientists testing products through clinical trials, to global institutions like the World Health Organization working towards vaccine equity, to local health workers administering doses. Vaccination requires communication, coordination and collaboration across sectors, with each filling their niche. However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach towards vaccine acceptance and uptake. Understanding and amplifying community-level perspectives are critical for effective and appropriate responses.
The Vaccination Acceptance Research Network (VARN)
The Sabin Vaccine Institute’s (Sabin) Vaccination Acceptance Research Network (VARN) brings together multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral stakeholders to share and disseminate social and behavioral science insights impacting vaccination.
In March, Sabin hosted its inaugural VARN conference, “VARN2022: Shaping Global Vaccine Acceptance with Localized Knowledge”. The value of such dedicated dialogue and multi-level knowledge sharing was clear, with over 750+ participants across 75+ countries having registered for the conference. Global health decision-makers, vaccination program implementers, academics and researchers were able to convene and identify key priorities to guide future vaccination acceptance research agendas and action.
Insights from VARN2022
A common thread within discussions at the VARN2022 conference was the disconnect between willingness to vaccinate and vaccination. In other words, an individual with intent to vaccinate does not always reach the point of vaccination. While it seems these two would be part of a natural continuum, they are each influenced by different factors. Drivers of vaccination behavior can be associated with equitable access, different policy recommendations for high-risk groups, appropriate health messaging, behavior change research and more.
This was an issue raised often at the VARN2022 conference, especially in Yale economics professor Dr. Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak’s presentation, Last-Mile Delivery of COVID Vaccines: Field Trials in Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, and India, and UNICEF Eastern and Southern Regional Office Behaviour Change Specialist Helena Ballester Bon’s Presentation, Behavioral and Social Drivers of COVID-19 Vaccination in Health Workers. Dr. Mushfiq Mobarak discussed lack of vaccine accessibility as one of the many reasons why vaccination rates are lagging in low- and middle-income countries. In Sierra Leone, it takes roughly three hours to get to a vaccination center each way, with the trip costing nearly four times a full day’s wage. Often, as Dr. Mobarak pointed out, high-income countries, which manufacture vaccines, incorrectly interpret the lack of access to vaccines as a lack of vaccine acceptance or demand within LMICs.
Similar to Dr. Mobarak’s findings, Ballester Bon found in her research in South Sudan that some individuals who wanted to get vaccinated, reported access issues in terms of time, convenience and cost of travel to the vaccination site. She recommends widely publicizing when and where people can get vaccinated, promoting a day off for vaccination, extending and creating flexible service hours, and developing interventions aiming at improving access for the elderly. Listening to these perspectives and experiences from the community level are vital in closing the gap between intent and act of vaccination.
Using our platform
The dialogue continues as we use our platform for transdisciplinary and community-driven knowledge sharing to inform effective vaccine acceptance and demand strategies. Sabin is committed to amplifying insights from VARN2022 through the release of our upcoming conference summary report and public access to recorded presentations. Join the VARN for updates on future events and findings from network.
In addition to VARN2022, opportunities to continue elevating pressing vaccination acceptance and demand issues are critically important. From April 18-21st, the World Vaccine Congress will be held in Washington, D.C., gathering leaders in the pharmaceutical industry, government, multilateral organizations, and research institutions to discuss R&D and strategic partnering for the global vaccine industry.
If you are attending the congress, be sure to catch the following sessions:
- Wednesday, April 20th, Vice President of Vaccine Innovation & Global Immunization Stacey Knobler chairs the all-day session, Market Access
- Wednesday, April 20th, Director of Research, Kate Hopkins, presents on Emerging Insights from Sabin’s Vaccine Acceptance & Demand Initiative
- Wednesday, April 20th, VARN member and Deputy Director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Rupali Limaye joins a panel discussion on “How have we made progress in the fight against scientific misinformation?”
- Thursday, April 21st, VAD’s Director of Advocacy and Outreach, Vince Blaser, chairs a half-day session on Vaccine Safety