By Canisio Mudzimu
The ongoing vaccination programme is a noble initiative to protect the general populace from the Covid-19 pandemic and it is axiomatic that robust strategies should be employed to raise awareness of the importance and safety of vaccination as well as to reduce apathy and anxiety among the people of this country.
In as much as the current efforts being undertaken by the government to promote the vaccination programme should be acknowledged, there is room for vast improvement in the promotion and communication initiatives for the Covid-19 vaccines to be “embraced” as the panacea to the crisis the country in particular and the world at large are enmeshed in.
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Just like the Biblical Thomas, some people only believe the efficacy or veracity of something only after seeing and this philosophy might be critical in the rolling out of the vaccination programme.
This is in tandem with learning theories and philosophies, such as Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Learning Theory, which place emphasis on observation, imitation and moulding of behaviour as critical to the learning process.
I have noted that most of the vaccination is being done at health institutions like hospitals and clinics, which may be due to medical reasons I might not be privy to, but most of the people are accustomed to visiting such institutions only when they fall ill, or when a relative or friend is sick but rarely when they are fit.
Taking a trip to a health institution when one is healthy is not part of our culture as Zimbabweans (or is it Africans), no wonder why things like regular health checks, dental checks and even cancer screening are not as popular as they should be.
Distance, travelling costs, time constraints, lack of urgency and the culture I have alluded to create a concoction of debilitating factors that might slow down the momentum of the vaccination drive.
To overcome this lacuna and inertia, it might be necessary for the powers-that-be to consider taking the vaccines to the people through a myriad of ways.
If it is medically feasible – which I feverishly hope it is – introducing mobile vaccination clinics that are set up where people are found, for instance at shopping centres, vegetable markets or bus termini may, ceteris paribus, boost uptake of the vaccine.
I am not sure about bars and beerhalls as they are officially closed, although on the ground the situation is not in consonance with the official position (let us leave this discussion for another day!).
People who are sitting on the fence vis-à-vis vaccination may be persuaded to get a jab when their colleagues do so or when the vaccination team is within an arm’s reach through the effect of mob psychology, imitation and observation as expounded earlier on.
Generally, people’s behaviours and attitudes are shaped and moulded by the behaviours and perceived attitudes of their role models and opinion leaders whom they look up to for inspiration and motivation.
The current drive to use celebrities like television news reporters to promote vaccination is acknowledged but it would be more efficacious to extend the tentacles of this strategy to encompass a gamut of opinion leaders such as priests, pastors, chiefs, traditional leaders, political leaders, socialites, athletes, footballers, actors, musicians, captains of industry, and other stars and celebrities.
With the proliferation of social media and internet, it must be easier for policy makers to reach out to the younger generation and millennials by using the celebrities to feature in advertisements or even record vaccination in progress in order to reduce the anxiety among some Zimbabweans and boost the propensity for their followers to receive the Covid-19 jabs.
For instance, the elderly in the rural areas would be persuaded when their church leaders, spiritual leaders, political leaders or chiefs, among others, encourage them to be vaccinated as these opinion leaders wield immense influence over social beliefs, norms, values and practices in their respective societies.
The efficacy of the vaccination programme would be enhanced if the promotional programmes would incorporate the magical wand of influence, role modelling and persuasion in order to change attitudes and behaviour towards vaccination.
Use of promotional techniques is necessary to reduce the information gap and assuage the speculation that some people have about the vaccination.
In the absence of information to counter gossip and hearsay, people regrettably take these as the gospel truth and what the government ought to do is to put in place measures to set the record straight by dishing out the correct and unadulterated information.
It is unfortunate that the Covid-19 pandemic makes some of the most effective ways of reaching out to the masses untenable, such as road shows, but what is needed are out-of-the-box mechanisms that maximise reach, engagement and information processing.
Maybe I have missed the distribution points of such material as fliers that explain – in all official languages – what the Covid-19 vaccine is all about, how it works, the different vaccines that are available in the country at the moment, any potential side effects and why people should be vaccinated.
Such print material should be readily available in supermarkets, restaurants and other outlets that are permitted to be operational in terms of the Covid-19 regulations.
I salute the inclusion of Covid-19 on the postage stamps, but based on the low frequency of use of letters in this modern world, such strategies ought to be augmented by using both print material that is popularly used and electronic media as well.
Pasting print material on such places as notice boards for supermarkets, television sets in supermarkets, Zupco buses, churches, bus termini, market stalls, shopping complexes, and even using door-to-door distribution might improve the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines.
It is widely acknowledged that communication is the epoxy that glues any nation to the wheel of success and in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic; it becomes increasingly necessary for the government to speak with one voice with conviction, assurance, consistency and dexterity.
What is needed is to assure the nation that vaccination is a solution not a curse and for the spin-doctors to dispel any misconceptions that Zimbabweans might have pertaining to the jabs.
This can only be achieved by regularly publishing statistics of people who would have been vaccinated as a way to prove that the programme is proceeding smoothly as a way of therapeutically convincing the ‘Doubting Thomases’ that “it indeed works”.
According to consumer behaviour theorists, the buyer decision making process is a delicate system that is initiated by the recognition that there is a need to be fulfilled (protection against coronavirus) and this stage is supported by intensive information search as the potential purchaser gathers information on how best to solve the problem/needs as well as evaluating alternative courses of action before a final decision is made.
This process can be likened to the one that a sane person undertakes in deciding whether to be vaccinated or not. As alluded to earlier on, a deluge of information on Covid-19 and the vaccines is imperative if this nation is to ‘fast-track’ the process, taking into cognisance what Dambudzo Marechera once wrote in one of his novels that, “to know the name of a demon is to have power over it”.
Even the Bible has it on good authority that “my people suffer from lack of knowledge…” (Hosea) and it goes without saying that some Zimbabweans are still in the dark pertaining to vaccination.
This information asymmetry has be to remedied to save lives of our people and I urge the government to move a gear up in its current programme to make information readily and easily available to its people for them to get vaccinated.
Canisio Mudzimu is a freelance writer, who can be contacted on email@example.com.