Government’s poor communication strategy on Covid led to vaccine apathy

A nurse prepares vaccine to administer to a patient [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Kenyan standards, this has been an uneventful week. There was little caterwauling from the political class as they were all busy getting shocked at the price of fuel.

All of them were surprised that fuel prices went up, and as we pointed out last week, they all know exactly what happened but have to lie that they are out to help Kenyans and will ensure that fuel prices are reduced.

That will not happen in the current fuel pricing cycle and they are just wasting more public funds in those parliamentary sittings so as to be seen as caring.

They have normalised telling lies and turned their die-hard supporters in to conspiracy theorists who not only fear listening to the truth but shun the correct information on important matters that can change or make their lives better.

They have done for ages it can be argued, but the intensity increased during the pandemic when some of them either questioned the measures instituted by the Health Ministry to curb the spread of the virus or violated them by hosting super-spreader events.

In both cases, the messages they were sending loudly or otherwise, was that coronavirus is not as contagious and dangerous as it has been made to be.

When the first case of virus was reported in Kenya, and the government came up with measures, half-hearted though, to curb the spread, certain politicians saw a sinister motive in the government’s move and started spreading half-truths.

Whenever number of cases as announced, they disputed the figures, but never gave the correct ones, or mention their sources.

Their followers believed them, and ignored any information given by the government about the virus, its variants and that it was contagious and expensive to treat.

The skepticism did not end with the announcements of infections and fatalities. It extended to the vaccine too, and by the time the government acquired the first batch, their zealous followers had already made up their minds.

They were doubting the efficacy of the vaccine, and knew about its short and long term side effects more than the scientists who developed it.

Also, their unfathomable knowledge was not just based on unverified rumours but were not backed by any meaningful research, yet it led to vaccine apathy which has persisted to date, more so in rural Kenya where provision of healthcare services is poor and more elderly and vulnerable populations reside.

This disinformation campaign, intentional or inadvertent, could have been countered by only one power, the government, because it has all the financial and human resources to effectively disseminate information about its programmes and initiatives.

Its messaging on coronavirus was generally poor and its communication strategy detestable, thus it failed to build positive vibes surrounding the vaccine, and why it is important to get vaccinated.

On several occasions, the government has been caught flat-footed when it comes to effectively giving the correct information, but its failure to make the Covid-19 vaccination drive a success exposed its weak public information services.

It can be argued that it did not start the pro-vaccination campaign early because it did not have enough vaccines or was not sure if the doses it would get would be enough, and feared a stampede when the rollout starts, but that would be the lamest excuse ever.

Whether it had the vaccines, it needed to let the masses know that the vaccines are safe and offer better protection than any intervention already developed.

By failing to create awareness on the efficacy of the vaccines and discounting stories about their long-term side effects, it created a fertile ground for the rumours and half-truths spread by the politicians and other busy bodies to thrive.

While it is rightful to blame politicians for their inability to tell the truth, and their love for twisting narratives to fit their sinister agenda, the government has been effective in creating the vacuum which politicians gladly fill with disinformation.

And it is not that the government does not know that it has a problem when it comes to public information.

It knows, and a few years ago it spent taxpayers’ money by forming some task force to help it come up with better ways of communication with the public, but still, it cannot keep its ducks in a row and keeps flailing.

That failure to effectively give the right information at the appropriate time does not just make its communications departments look inept — of course they have proven that they are — but costs lives.

There are Kenyans more so in rural areas who have declined to get vaccinated and have convinced their elderly folk not to get the jab too, and even when their excuses are debunked, they still do not budge,

That is happening because the government decided to sit back — and now the people with the least knowledge about vaccines are winning a war against an entity which supposedly has the best brains, and most financial resources. What a shame

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