The project will aim to fill critical information gaps in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Schmidt Science Fellows has joined with partners to announce the launch of a new project, the Vaccine Information Network (VIN), on COVID-19 vaccine acceptance in South Africa and Zimbabwe, with the goal of better informing efforts to promote vaccination in the two countries. This new project is a product of the Vaccine Safety and Confidence-Building Working Group (VacSafe).
VIN is supported by Schmidt Futures, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Aspen Pharmacare. Founding VacSafe partners, Columbia University and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, are joined by RTI International, Charles River Medical Group in Zimbabwe, the Rhodes Trust based at the University of Oxford, the Atlantic Institute, and Schmidt Science Fellows.
The project aims to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates through data-driven confidence building messages from trusted community leaders and partnerships with governments.
Dr. Megan Kenna, Executive Director of Schmidt Science Fellows, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and the inequitable approach to vaccine availability and uptake around the world is one of the key drivers. Tackling COVID-19 is a multi-faceted issue and demands contributions from many different disciplines. Interdisciplinarity is at the core of Schmidt Science Fellows and I am proud that our organization and our Fellowship community can contribute expertise alongside all the partners to this initiative.”
Dr. Elizabeth Kiss, Warden of Rhodes House and CEO of the Rhodes Trust said: “We are excited that Rhodes Scholars, Schmidt Science Fellows, and Atlantic Fellows are joining this tremendously important study to develop better ways to reassure people and show them the power of vaccination to protect millions against the potentially deadly effects of COVID-19.
“As a community of leaders and change agents dedicated to creating positive change in the world, it is so important for us to collaborate with colleagues on projects like these that will make a real difference to people’s lives.
“COVID-19 respects no borders, so it’s vital we bring together global expertise from different disciplines to tackle issues and produce robust findings we can share.”
The project will follow a three-phase approach in both countries, beginning with focus group discussions to understand the nature and drivers of vaccine hesitancy.
In the second phase, the research team will recruit and interview a cohort of 2,000 COVID-19 vaccine recipients three times over six weeks to understand the motivations, barriers, safety perceptions, side effects and other experiences of COVID-19 vaccination. In the final phase, the researchers will draw on their findings to co-design a strategic communications framework with local influencers, including religious leaders, community leaders and media.
“The drivers of vaccine hesitancy vary from country to country and even locality to locality,” said Dr. Larry Stanberry, Associate Dean for International Programs and Director of the Programs in Global Health at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Without a better understanding of the local reasons behind vaccine hesitancy and how people overcome their hesitancy, it is challenging to build a strong local plan to promote vaccination.”
Dr. Tariro Makadzange, M.D., Ph.D., Founder and CEO of Charles River Medical Group in Zimbabwe added: “This project will equip governments and local influencers with the critical data and information needed to create effective messaging.”
About Columbia University’s VacSafe Working Group:
The Vaccine Safety and Confidence-Building Working Group (VacSafe WG) will catalyze and support projects that generate, scale and analyze actively-collected vaccine safety surveillance and pharmaco-vigilance data in Africa. Dr. Lawrence Stanberry, Associate Dean for International Programs and Director of the Programs in Global Health at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Shabir Madhi, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor of Vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand, are the science co-directors. VacSafe WG is convened by Wilmot James PhD, Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and policy (ISERP) and co-convened by Joshua Nott at Schmidt Futures, For more information, visit https://vacsafe.columbia.edu/.