Building confidence in safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines

Bushai Ayat Othou received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine after attending a UNICEF information session on vaccine safety in South Sudan. (© UNICEF/Mach)

When Bushai Ayat Othou learned COVID-19 vaccine doses would be available in South Sudan, she felt elated. But rumors and misinformation soon raised concerns in her mind.

A UNICEF myth-debunking session, held in the Malakal region, gave Othou confidence in the vaccine and she received her shot the first day it was available. “We saw other people who had taken the vaccine, so we took it seriously,” Othou, a mother of four, said of the session run by UNICEF, a U.S. government partner.

President Biden has called the United States an “arsenal of vaccines” for the world. The United States is donating more than 610 million doses of safe and effective vaccines to low- and middle-income countries and economies.

A woman receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine May 7 in Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (© UNICEF/Wenga)
One obstacle: A recent a Gallup poll found that more than 1 billion people worldwide are hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The reasons vary from concerns about side effects to belief in false rumors that vaccines alter DNA or turn people magnetic.

Dr. Dimitri Prybylski, leader of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Demand for Immunization Team, said all the conflicting information can make people reluctant to follow sound public health advice.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. Tens of thousands of people participated in clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines and hundreds of millions of safe and effective doses have been administered.

While mild side effects can occur, they are a normal sign the body is building up protection. Any symptoms disappear in a few days. Serious side effects are extremely unlikely following any vaccination, including doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CDC.

A health promoter discusses the safety of COVID-19 vaccines with people in Khartoum state, Sudan, in May. (© UNICEF/Sabir)
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) runs public information campaigns with governments or local organizations in a number of countries, including Guyana, India, Kosovo and the Philippines. The campaigns use radio, television and social media to educate people on vaccine safety.

USAID also trains health care workers around the world, including in India, to safely administer vaccines. And it continues to monitor vaccine safety in partnership with health officials in many countries, including the Philippines.

The United States and partner organizations also work with religious leaders in countries including India, South Sudan and elsewhere to build confidence in vaccines. John Malith, a priest in Tonj, South Sudan, helps UNICEF educate people on the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. He carries his own vaccination certificate when talking to others.

“I use my experience as a living example that the vaccine is safe,” Malith said. “I have received it and nothing bad has happened to me.”