By Mary Hearty

As majority of the African countries continue to grapple with the vaccination efforts to achieve herd immunity, journalists in particular have been urged to keep on sensitizing the public on the benefit of getting vaccinated in order to accelerate the acceptance rate.

Prof Phelix Majiwa, an expert in Molecular Biology, speaking during the Africa Science Media Centre (AfriSMC) press briefing said current Data from World Health Organization (WHO) shows that Africa’s vaccination rate is below 2% as only about 10 out of 100 people have received at least one dose and only 4 out of 100 are fully vaccinated.

Furthermore, only 15 countries have fully vaccinated 10% of their population, with Seychelles and Mauritius having fully vaccinated over 60% of their populations. Morocco 48% and Tunisia, Comoros and Cape Verde have vaccinated over 20%. Although these states have relatively low populations.

Speaking to the press on The Crucial Role of Journalists in the Fight against COVID-19 and other Pandemics, Prof Majiwa pointed out that it is the journalists’ responsibility to drive vaccination efforts in order to achieve herd immunity in the countries.

This, he said, the media can do by reporting detailed information that is evidence-based, and that people can understand to avoid misinformation that can lead to vaccine hesitancy as well as withdrawal of sponsors supporting studies on vaccines.

For instance, when reporting on the importance of the vaccines to the public, Prof Majiwa advised journalists that it is vital to include the steps to which a vaccine was approved.

“People need to understand the steps of evaluation, starting from the first step to the step where they got approval; if they are for emergency, the public also needs to know why.”

According to the US Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization, , vaccines allowed for emergency use meet certain stringent criteria, including that there are no available alternatives to prevent or control life threatening diseases or conditions like the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

So far, eight vaccines have been approved for use by the WHO. The major ones include Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Gamaleya, Oxford/AstraZeneca, CanSino, Johnson & Johnson, Vector Institute, Novavax, Sinopharm, Sinovac, Sinopharm-Wuhan and Bharat Biotech.

He observed that the vaccines were safe and effective despite the emergence of new variants, adding that there were ongoing studies to develop new and more improved vaccines.

Prof Majiwa said: “The vaccine boosts the body’s immunity through the production of antibodies that help to fight foreign substances like the Coronavirus. Afterwards, some of the antibodies die hence their numbers reduce, and then they reproduce again.”

The vaccine validation process, Prof Majiwa added, is the reason why some vaccines do not meet the standards of approval. “When the vaccines are being taken through the validation process, there is a minimum threshold which is given to determine the efficacy with regards to parameters like specificity and sensitivity,” he explained.

When covering disease outbreaks, he highlighted the need for the public to be made aware of the source of infectious diseases, the methods and tools used to discover their cause as this builds the public’s confidence in science.

Prof Majiwa also encouraged journalists to engage with scientists in order to acquire knowledge and seek clarifications on emerging scientific issues and new studies.  “Before publishing any information, it is significant to understand what you want to publish first, why you want to publish it and the target audience,” he said.

Also, in the world where majority of the people have access to smart phones, Prof Majiwa advised journalists to take note on the risk of deliberate misinformation; and he suggested that   focus group discussions involving journalists and experts should be conducted regularly to discuss emerging misinformation that can lead to vaccine hesitancy if published by the mass media.