Cape Town — As coronavirus cases surge in Africa, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) kicked off an eight-week campaign to help boost Covid-19 vaccinations across Africa.
UNICEF said the first-ever U-Report Challenge calls on all 13.3 million U-Reporters in Africa to help get vaccines to the unvaccinated.
According to UNICEF, the #GiveitaShot challenge aims to activate young people in motivating those eligible in their communities to get vaccinated. It is estimated that about 10 percent of the adult population on the continent are vaccinated.
UNICEF said the campaign will initially focus on six countries on the continent, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. It added that weekly messages will be sent on U-Report to encourage young people to learn about Covid-19 vaccines. They will be engaged in community actions (both online and offline).
Fake news on the Covid-19 pandemic has led to vaccine hesitancy worldwide. “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization said, referring to fake news that, he said, spreads faster and more easily than the Covid-19 virus.
However, concern about safety, side effects, and effectiveness contribute to vaccine hesitancy in Africa. According to the Africa CDC study, people with high levels of hesitancy were more likely to use social media and to be exposed to disinformation.
U-Report is a messaging tool that empowers young people around the world to engage with and speak out on issues that matter to them via SMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and other communication channels. It is active in 88 countries worldwide, with 19.3 million U-Reporters all over the world. According to UNICEF, Covid-19 information and advocacy messages is packaged and disseminated to U-Reporters users.
Nigerian and South African celebrities and U-Report supporters, Kate Henshaw and Maps Maponyane, are teaming up with the global agency on the initiative.
“Africa has been battling Covid-19 for two years now,” Kate Henshaw said. “At a time of Omicron, it is more important than ever to get vaccines to the unvaccinated.” “If we want to combat misinformation, it is key to mobilize the continent’s U-Reporters and provide much-needed information on Covid-19 vaccines to save people’s lives”, Maps Maponyane added in a UNICEF report.
AllAfrica’s Andre van Wyk spoke with South African TV and media personality and UNICEF South Africa Advocate Maps Maponyane on the #GiveItAShot challenge.
What was the main motivation for you to become a supporter of U-Report Challenge?
I am a supporter of the U-Report Challenge because I believe it will play a pivotal role in ensuring that all youth are well informed about the Covid-19 vaccine and will be encouraged to engage in the challenge on the platform. If we have as many youths as possible who have more knowledge about the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccines, this will help to curb infection and transmission rates and U-Report is at the centre of this solution.
How will the U-Report Challenge counteract vaccine misinformation on social media?
The #GiveItAShot challenge is about providing factual information about Covid-19 vaccines to improve confidence in the vaccine and in turn to motivate young people to vaccinate and to encourage those eligible in their community to get vaccinated. The challenge packages and disseminates Covid-19 information and advocacy messages via U-Report, Goodwall (an app) , social media and broadcast media channels, amplified by UNICEF ambassadors and other influencers. decision-makers. Counteracting misinformation on social media also relies on young people themselves to share factual information and the challenge will mobilise youth to become agents of change in their communities promoting vaccinations, raising awareness on Covid-19 and providing learning opportunities.
Do you think influencers/celebrities have a greater role to play in promoting vaccine acceptance?
I think influencers and celebrities have a greater role to play in promoting vaccine acceptance because young people turn to them for inspiration and to be part of the impactful work and initiatives that they engage in. It’s important that we use our platform for accurate and positive messaging regarding vaccines. Ultimately if everyone is better protected from Covid-19, livelihoods will also be protected as we return to more normality and that’s beneficial to everyone. So many of us have been affected one way or the other by the effects of Covid-19, and using our platforms and influence to advocate for vaccine acceptance is so crucial in creating a safer environment and community for ourselves and our loved ones.
What is more important or effective: infection-acquired immunity or vaccine-acquired immunity?
We are still learning about how long immunity to Covid-19 lasts from natural infection, and from vaccination. We are now starting to see evidence that the immunity you get after having Covid-19 can be strong. However, the type of immunity that’s developed after infection varies from person to person, making it less predictable than immunity after vaccination. Scientists are working hard to understand this better. * What we do know is that COVID-19 is a life-threatening disease that can have long-term consequences. We also know that the WHO-authorised Covid-19 vaccines have been safely given to billions of people. It is much safer to get vaccinated than it is to risk getting Covid-19. Get vaccinated as soon as it’s your turn and keep doing everything you can to protect yourself and others.
Do you think the government has made progress in the past year in the fight against Covid-19?
The deaths of more than 95,000 people in South Africa is a tragedy for every family affected. But progress in tackling Covid-19 is being made. More than 30 million people, nearly half the population, have now received a Covid-19 vaccine dose, and UNICEF and partners continue to work to increase that number, particularly among young people, which is why the Give It A Shot challenge is so important.
Does Africa’s lower rate of access to the Internet risk the continent having a long struggle against the pandemic?
UNICEF and partners have worked on behavior change and vaccination campaigns in countries across Africa for many years. Routine childhood immunization has saved millions of young lives from preventable but deadly diseases, such as measles and polio. The Internet provides extraordinary opportunities to reach people with factual and accurate information but can also breed mis- and dis-information, which in turn needs to be tackled and overcome. However, getting accurate information about how to protect yourself against Covid-19 and getting shots into arms also relies on traditional and community media, as well as primary healthcare centers and mobile health services. Through such services, we continue to work to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and broader health issues.