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Integration, Coordination, and Communication: Insights from VARN2023

Integration, Coordination, and Communication: Insights from VARN2023

headshot of Evonne Mwangale

Evonne Mwangale

Evonne Mwangale recently attended VARN2023 in Bangkok, Thailand where she presented a poster on behalf of the USAID-funded Knowledge SUCCESS project regarding effective practices and lessons learned vaccinating health workers in Africa during COVID-19. She shares more about her experience below. 

The Vaccination Acceptance Research Network (VARN) recently concluded its second annual conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The conference, which took place June 13–15, 2023, was co-convened with UNICEF and co-sponsored by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and in support of COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership priority countries. The conference provided a space for the exploration and dissemination of a growing body of knowledge, practice, and evidence-informed strategies for driving action across the vaccination acceptance, demand, and delivery ecosystem, under the core themes of vaccine equity, essential childhood immunization, and life-course immunization (LCI).  

VARN2023 brought together representatives from over 30 nations at the global, regional, national, sub-national, and community levels to exchange solutions and lessons learned from work from around the world. Participants hailed from various governments, development partners, donors, the private sector, civil society, and academia. I presented a poster on behalf of the USAID-funded Knowledge SUCCESS project regarding effective practices and lessons learned vaccinating health workers in Africa during COVID-19. Knowledge SUCCESS is providing technical assistance to the USAID COVID-19 Response Team in the form of knowledge management, synthesis, and sharing. 

Throughout the conference, I also had the opportunity to attend the following enlightening sessions:  

  • Vaccinating across the Life-Course: Maximizing the Benefits to All 
  • Inequities Creating Zero-Dose Communities & Gender Gaps in Immunization 
  • Demand Generation  
  • Social Listening and Combating Misinformation 
  • Tools and Approaches to Boost Vaccine Confidence 
  • Social Listening and Understanding Community Information Needs 
  • Connecting the Vaccination Ecosystem  

Two overarching conference themes were stakeholder coordination for integration and the significance of communication for successful vaccine uptake.  

Stakeholder coordination for integration 

The most recent guidance from WHO states the importance of integrating COVID-19 vaccination into immunization programs and primary health care. Integration is important for sustainability, leveraging resources, and developing life-course approaches to vaccines. Stakeholders play a vital role in successful integration programs.    

At VARN2023, there was also a strong call to mobilize stakeholder efforts to achieve better results. Carla Toko, Senior Manager, Advocacy & Communications at VillageReach, discussed the integration of COVID-19 vaccination with routine immunization services at  primary health centers in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. As part of her discussion, Carla detailed successful integration enablers:   

  • Collaborating with community health workers for demand generation 
  • Adapting neighborhood-specific strategies in collaboration with community health workers 
  • Ensuring convenient access points for routine immunization and COVID-19 vaccine services 
  • Investing in comprehensive data management at the health facility level 
  • Providing adequate funding for staffing and resources for a multi-modal approach  

As Carla showed, successful integration requires coordinated efforts between governments, health workers, donors, the private sector, and the public. All stakeholders must be progressively brought on board throughout the vaccine implementation process.  

“Stakeholders are powerful enablers of integration. They must work together for successful integration to take place,” Carla said.  

Significance of communication for successful vaccine uptake 

Right from the conference’s opening ceremony, the significance of communication campaigns was clear.  

“We need to have 360-degree integration that aligns with national routine immunizations. This should include storytelling; otherwise, others may tell false stories,” explained Lilyan Mutua, Head of Health Promotion in Nairobi City County, Kenya.   

Speaking during the conference keynote panel on the first day, Lilyan referred to the waves of disinformation and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine roll-out. She discussed the need to integrate mass media and social media with interpersonal communication and public relations efforts for successful vaccination programs, including the use of local influencers.  

“When people of influence get vaccinated, they set a powerful example for their public,” noted Lilyan.  

Dr. Richard Kabanda, Acting Commissioner Health Services, Health Promotion, Education, and Health Communication at the Ministry of Health, Uganda, also discussed integrating communication efforts for vaccine success. While speaking on demand generation as part of pandemic preparedness, vaccine access and delivery, and decision-making, Dr. Kabanda advocated for the use of multiple forms of communication efforts working towards one goal —vaccine success.   

“Effective, purposeful, and highly intensified messaging must be developed for vaccine success. These messages must be relatable and contextualized, including the use of social listening, behavior change models, and theoretical frameworks to guide practice,” explained Dr. Kabanda. 

Overall, the VARN 2023 conference shed light on many pressing issues regarding vaccine acceptance, demand, and delivery that can be used to inform COVID-19 response efforts.

headshot of Evonne Mwangale

Evonne Mwangale

Evonne Mwangale (PhD) is an experienced communication for development professional and researcher with 18 years of experience. She is a consultant with Knowledge SUCCESS having led the work of documenting lessons learned from vaccinating health workers from COVID-19 and their role in vaccinating their clients. Her particular technical interests include health and development communication. Evonne teaches at the School of Communication at Daystar University, Nairobi, Kenya and has worked for various international development agencies. She has published on various issues including communication during pandemics.

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