Effective and appropriate communication is a must to make any social campaign a success. Communication is one of the crucial variables for the accomplishment of human endeavour. It has been instrumental in enhancing public trust in vaccination against COVID-19. Communication at different levels boosts the reliability of vaccines. It is pertinent to successfully organise the vaccination campaign to combat the pandemic among the nations. Hence, it is equally essential to locate trusted sources of information to pursue people deciding to take any of COVID-19 vaccines.
Recently, it has been revealed that where the media dependency is at a higher level, there is low acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines. The societies where non-mediated or direct communication is dominant, there is low vaccines hesitancy. A worldwide study, conducted by Yale Institute for Global Health, states that 97 per cent of Nepali population, who are eligible for vaccines, are ready for the shots. It also tells that there is considerably higher willingness to take a COVID-19 vaccine in low- and middle-income countries. Such willingness is found in 80 per cent of population of those countries while it is 65 per cent in the United States and 30 per cent in Russia.
Effective communication The study has also disclosed that religious leaders and celebrities are not seen as the top sources of guidance by many respondents in any sample other than Nepal, where 16 to almost 19 per cent of the respondents state they most trust famous people. Since effective and authoritative public communication can contribute to increasing trust, mass media have yet to gain a greater level of confidence in Nepali society. In other words, the professional mass media are less noticeable in chaotic situation created by the Social Networking Sites or irresponsible fly-by-night news portals that are mushrooming every day.
The aforementioned multi-national study shows that the COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rate in Nepal is the highest in the world. An essay entitled ‘COVID-19 vaccine acceptance and hesitancy in low-and middle-income countries’ published in Nature Medicine sums that Nepal is a country where family members and friends are seen as an important source of advice when deciding whether to take a COVID-19 vaccine. It states that in such a society, social signalling of positive attitudes towards vaccines may help shift social norms toward even greater immunisation acceptance in the community at large.
Communication is social action. It is an interaction among the individuals, shaping the thinking patterns and point of views within the society. It is believed that verbal communication is a condition of the existence of human society. Mass communication, which is a mode of human communication developed in the course of civilisation and has been in continuous progression in terms of impact, is the backbone of post-modern society. Today, social media have emerged as an integral part of day to day life of the people. These different modes of human communication are the catalytic factors for social action. However, the dependence of the general public on different forms of communication links varies from one society to another.
Today, with the strong prevalence of the New Media, traditional forms of mass media have been converged. For instance, printed papers as the media of mass communication are being supplemented and complemented by digital content disseminated through online news portals. Besides the edited content that is to be the outcome of a professional process of journalism, there is a parallel flow of a huge amount of unedited content through social networking sites. Social media, which are also the offspring of the New Media, are creating a demand from the profession of journalism, whether traditional or digital, to provide authoritative and fair materials. One of the challenges in the existing communication superhighway is to make people aware of the misinformation, disinformation and even superstitions spreading through the individual and unrestrained expression through the social media.
In the age of overflow of unedited content, the world needs dependable and trustworthy media for the relentless supply of fair and reliable content in the form of edited materials. Because there is a significant amount of negatively oriented discourse about vaccines and a belief that vaccinations are unsafe on different platforms of social media. In the global context, vaccine-hesitant groups on social media have an alarming footprint. The studies show that large proportions of vaccine-related content circulated via different social media platforms carries anti-vaccination messages.
Truthful information Steven Wilson of Brandeis University, Massachusetts, the USA along with Charles Wiysonge of South African Medical Research Council has concluded in a journal ‘BMJ Global Health’ that there is a significant impact of such materials in their societies. It has been found that social media have invoked public doubts about vaccine safety. The duo also sums that there is a substantial relationship between disinformation campaigns and declining vaccination coverage. Hence, it is paramount to tackle the challenge to make the worldwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign successful.
The comparative study of the different territories demonstrates that the willingness and unwillingness of people to take COVID-19 vaccines depend on their perception of the most trusted sources of information in their decision-making. Although the Nepali society considers famous people as the most trusted source of information, there is also an expectation from the professional mass media. They need to disseminate balanced, truthful and authoritative information to the mass to discourage the disinformation and rumour responsible for vaccine hesitancy.
(Dr. Aryal is associated with the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of Tribhuvan University.)