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Creating a guide for boosting vaccine uptake

March 28, 2022

Teresa Koratsi, registered health extension officer at Businesses for Health Papua New Guinea (B4H), demonstrates to shop floor workers how to properly wash hands with hand sanitizer at a downtown plaza in Port Moresby.

Photo caption: Teresa Koratsi, registered health extension officer at Businesses for Health Papua New Guinea (B4H), demonstrates to shop floor workers how to properly wash hands with hand sanitizer at a downtown plaza in Port Moresby.

Since December 2020, the most significant appeal in the efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic has been a simple one: Get vaccinated.

But it actually isn’t so simple. The push to vaccinate the world has exposed major issues of inequity — and the vaccination gaps between high- and low-income countries are striking. Ensuring equitable access is essential, but access alone is not always enough.

In many cases, the vaccine is available, but people are hesitant to stick out their arms. In Papua New Guinea, vaccine resistance has been a major hurdle: This Asia Pacific nation has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world — fewer than 3 percent of the population are fully vaccinated. To combat misinformation and increase the demand and uptake for vaccination services, FHI 360 created and field-tested the Demand Creation and Advocacy for COVID-19 Vaccine Acceptance and Uptake Toolkit. Funded by FHI 360’s Social and Behavior Change Division and the Market Development and Product Introduction initiative, this toolkit is a practical guide and technical assistance package that supports local organizations in designing, implementing and adjusting COVID-19 interventions.

“One big gap we saw with existing social and behavior change products and guides was that there was a lot of information on what needs to be done, but not really tailored guidance on how to do it,” says Emily Bockh, a technical advisor at FHI 360.

As part of the toolkit, the Quick Start Guide focuses on the “how” by offering practical tools and guidance that organizations can customize for their individual circumstances. “Global Boosters” build on existing evidence to jumpstart local efforts to tailor techniques and messages for specific audiences. In addition, the guide provides information on factors that influence vaccine uptake as well as a list of global databases where partners can find critical local research and data.

In Papua New Guinea, FHI 360 trained local organization Businesses for Health Papua New Guinea (B4H) to use the Quick Start Guide to help reduce COVID-19 transmission and increase demand for vaccines among small-business owners and employees in the bustling industrial hubs in and around the National Capital District of Port Moresby.

“Instead of trying to give information to everyone on what COVID-19 is, how to prevent it, and what the Department of Health is doing — and requires everyone to do — to reduce the impact of the pandemic, the social and behavior change training taught us to deliver messaging specific to the type of audience that we meet,” says Teresa Koratsi, workplace case coordinator and registered health extension officer at B4H.

B4H was established in 2017 in response to the challenges of tuberculosis and HIV in Papua New Guinea. It now offers workplace trainings on infection prevention and COVID-19 control in support of the national COVID-19 prevention and treatment campaign known as the Niupela Pasin (the “new normal”).

In downtown plazas and megamalls, over the course of three months, Koratsi and her team visited 207 small shops, mostly women-operated, to give presentations and share information on COVID-19 prevention and vaccination.

An evaluation of their visits reveals that the face-to-face approach is much more effective than any other way of promoting changes in health behaviors and vaccine uptake. After attending the presentations, participants knew where to go for a COVID-19 test and where to look online for the latest COVID-19 information. They could also identify the country’s largest infectious disease killer (tuberculosis) and the greatest risk factors for COVID-19. Most surprisingly, in contrast to other recent studies in the country, only a minority of participants reported that they would not get vaccinated: 20 percent of participants said they intended to get vaccinated and about one-third were thinking about it as a result of participating in the workplace sessions (27 percent of participants had already been vaccinated).

“The employees’ request across all the shops we visited has been the same: ‘Bring this awareness to our families back in the communities,’” Koratsi says.

Now, the team at B4H has the tools they need to raise awareness of — and increase advocacy for — COVID-19 vaccination. And they can use the process, tools and approach in the Quick Start Guide to build acceptance of new technologies in other areas of health.

Photo credit: Businesses for Health Papua New Guinea