Leveraging digital technology to promote COVID-19 vaccine update: A joint PAHO/WHO-ITU initiative in the Eastern Caribbean

Young man holding mobile phone

Bridgetown, Barbados, 7 March 2022 (PAHO/WHO) - Since the summer of 2021 the COVID-19 vaccine continued to be rolled out in the Eastern Caribbean countries in a scenario of shortage of health care workers and a surge of COVID-19 cases related to variants of concerns (VOC).  The roll out and vaccine deployment, in the countries was also met with hesitancy among the population after initial strong interest.  Vaccination uptake has slowed and there was a need to ensure that vaccines would be utilized efficiently without waste. 

Thus, strong efforts are required to scale up vaccination uptake, achieve maximum utilization of vaccines, and increase coverage. It’s very critical to ensuring vaccines are valued, trusted, easily available, and actively sought out. This is important for the most vulnerable and those who greatly benefit by avoiding severe illness and death if they are affected by COVID-19.

In this regard, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) joined efforts on October 25, 2021, to launch a new public health education campaign designed to tackle the high level of misinformation referred to as the infodemic about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine hesitancy, in the Eastern Caribbean Countries of Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and Saint Lucia.

This collaboration between PAHO/WHO, ITU and Trend Media / Digicel a communications provider, involved the delivery of short key messages via Short Message Service (SMS) and other electronic platforms to the target markets. 

During the eight-week campaign, the messages provided reliable, evidence-based advice and guidance to debunk misinformation related to COVID-19 vaccines, messaging was provided via videos, social media cards and public service announcements.  Topics of the delivered messages included how vaccines are developed, how vaccines work, on safety, side effects of vaccines and the benefits of vaccines.

During the campaign approximately two million SMS were sent, 150,000 people received awareness raising information and 10,000 people watched educational videos.

Mr. Cleveland Thomas, ITU Area representative, Caribbean Countries said, "We have leveraged our relationships and resources to apply electronic communications solutions to the negative impact of the infodemic on the people of the Caribbean."

“We are pleased to have collaborated with partners in this very important campaign as every effort should be made to reach all populations with a full series of effective vaccines focusing on at risk and vulnerable groups and attain at least 70% coverage by July 1st, 2022, so that we can end the pandemic as a global health emergency this year as vaccines are safe and they work”, remarked Dr. Yitades Gebre, PAHO/WHO Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries.

Following an assessment of its impact on the citizens in which the project was launched, the partners agreed to develop a second phase of the campaign, focussing on countries with low vaccination coverage.

The ITU is the specialized body of the United Nations organization which addresses issues related to the development of telecommunications services globally.

This year PAHO celebrates its 120th anniversary of active work promoting health and wellbeing throughout the Americas.  Founded in 1902 under the guiding principle that health is not a privilege but a fundamental human right, PAHO has worked tirelessly to combat disease, lengthen life and to promote the physical and mental health of all people in the Americas, leaving no one behind.

Recording of press conference: