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Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy through innovative social media outreach in Nigeria

During COVID-19, we all experienced the chilling sensation of a world on stand still in the face of a deadly virus. We can identify with the panic and uncertainty that gripped the world when the virus was declared a global pandemic. Families shut their windows and doors in fear; churches fell silent, markets lay abandoned and neighborhoods were empty, without the noises of playing children. However, hope came when the COVID-19 vaccine became available. The world heaved a collective sigh of hope.  

RISE community workers carrying out COVID-19 vaccines in Creek area.

However, as the pandemic persisted, so did the spread of misinformation. The caution regarding COVID-19 vaccines took root in many communities, and vaccine hesitancy became a formidable barrier to achieving widespread COVID-19 vaccination. Like the famous cautionary tale, myths and misconceptions around the safety and fear of possible side effects of the vaccine spread far and fast. People feared that the health systems would not be able to handle this new virus. With support from USAID, the RISE project in Nigeria, working together with the government, was faced with the daunting task of halting COVID-19’s deadly march across the vast lands of Niger state, Nigeria’s largest state by landmass, across the high mountains of Taraba state and beyond. The goal was to get COVID-19 vaccines to doorsteps and to get people to willingly accept the vaccine. 

Recognizing the need for innovative solutions to combat a modern pandemic, RISE Nigeria turned to the power of social media. RISE set out to dispel these myths and misconceptions to improve acceptance of its COVID-19 vaccination program.  

The RISE COVID-19 Vaccination initiative surged forward to amplify vaccine distribution among both general population and health care workers in Niger and Taraba states of Nigeria. This came in response to the low vaccination rate reported by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA). In a groundbreaking collaboration, RISE worked with AIfluence, a technology-driven group that engages in social media campaigns to drive demand generation for COVID-19 vaccination, to identify and address barriers to vaccination uptake. This partnership was innovative in its utilization of social media platforms (Facebook, X (formelyTwitter), and Instagram) to address existing myths and misconception of COVID-19 vaccine in Niger and Taraba state.  

AIfluence’s strategic partnership was founded on the understanding that empowering individuals through systematic, participatory, and inclusive processes is the most sustainable, impactful, and effective way to change attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and to provide accurate COVID-19 information. 

AIfluence deployed ambassadors on Facebook and X as part of a dedicated campaign to increase COVID-19 vaccination. Through authentic, peer-to-peer conversations, they raised awareness around the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, to reduce vaccine hesitancy and improve vaccine confidence in the targeted states. The initiative kicked off by carefully selecting 115 ambassadors from both states to champion the cause of COVID-19 vaccine adoption and to enhance vaccine confidence in Nigeria. These ambassadors comprised youth leaders interested in healthcare, community leaders, student leaders, community activists, nurses, and health enthusiasts. The campaign boosted a mix of profiles with nano-ambassadors boosting between 1,000 to 10,000 followers and micro-ambassadors with between 10,000 to 50,000 followers. Sixty-seven percent of these ambassadors identified as male, while 33% identified as women.  

These wellness and lifestyle ambassadors created engaging social media posts, incorporating polls to establish a connection with the audience while soliciting valuable feedback and insights. Weekly monitoring of these polls enabled evaluation of the proportion of negative and positive responses from the targeted population, facilitating the reinforcement of positive messages and increased awareness of negative sentiments. Across Facebook and Twitter, a total of 1,260 posts were shared, reaching an impressive audience of 1,906,879 individuals and generating 28,881 engagements. Content focused on various themes, including encouraging vaccination, dispelling myths and misconceptions, discussing the economic impact of COVID-19, and sharing individual experiences. 

Mobile vaccinations for from the RISE project.

Following the campaign’s inception with an online baseline survey, an end line assessment was conducted in 2023. Findings revealed a significant achievement: the campaign contributed a remarkable 41% to COVID-19 vaccine uptake, translating into 286,326 out of 700,071 COVID-19 vaccinations administered during that period. This concerted effort led to a consistent upswing in COVID-19 vaccination rates in Taraba and Niger states. As the world gradually reopened its boundaries, reverting to the interconnected global village it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, the initial fear and dread gave way to hope and confidence, with the ingenuity of projects like RISE, putting humanity first. 

Jhpiego believes that when women are healthy, families and communities are strong. We won’t rest until all women and their families—no matter where they live—can access the health care they need to pursue happy and productive lives.

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