While the end of polio is within reach, immunisation efforts can easily be derailed by spreading vaccine misinformation, wrote the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
While it is near impossible to eliminate vaccine misinformation after it has spread, national health systems can actively monitor for and address misinformation as it arises. Digital Community Engagement enables countries to bridge the gap between their on-the-ground work and digital communities, while fostering trust in childhood immunization.
In 2022, over five million online social listening results were analyzed from 41 countries in more than 100 languages.
The most common misinformation pieces claimed that vaccines were unsafe and that they could cause other diseases. Other fear-inducing misinformation involved how countries or individuals are using vaccines.
This is where the Digital Community Engagement (DCE) initiative is proving effective.
Based on the Vaccine Misinformation Management Guide, the DCE was launched as a first-of-its-kind misinformation management model in 2021 by UNICEF and The Public Good Projects.
Backed by scientific evidence and facts, messages on polio are carefully prepared at the DCE hub in English, French, Urdu, and Pashto. The team organizes content into a bank for quick retrieval based on reoccurring themes, such as vaccine effectiveness, safety, and side effects.
There are about 75,000 digital volunteers repurposing content shared by Influence on social media to dispel vaccine and polio misinformation. In 2022, content posted through Influence channels and amplified by digital volunteers reached 74 million people.
“What we say must be accurate and easy to understand for everyone,” commented Soterine Tsanga, Polio Outbreak Response SBC specialist with UNICEF, who is also involved in the rollout of DCE, on October 30, 2023.
“When there’s a polio outbreak, our goal is to respond swiftly to reach children with vaccination and stop further spread of the virus.”
“We cannot afford to have our messaging causing confusion among mothers and fathers,” she added.
The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed on August 25, 2023, that the spread of polio virus remained a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and extended the emergence for an additional three months.
Poliomyelitis has been confirmed in wastewater and ground samples in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Canada, Europe, India, Israel, the United Kingdom, and New York in 2023.
The total number of poliomyelitis samples collected in countries with poliovirus transmission was 12,259 from 40 countries in 2022, an increase from 8,945 in 36 countries in 2021.
The WHO and U.S. CDC suggest international travelers be fully protected against polio before visiting outbreak areas.
As of November 29, 2023, two types of polio vaccines are offered in various countries. The inactivated polio vaccine has been provided in the U.S. since 2000 and is available at most clinics and pharmacies.