Crisis Communications and Vaccine Uptake in Fragile African Settings: What Works?

March 31, 2021

This event is part of the ISERP Center for Pandemic Research's series on "The History and Future of Planetary Threats." and in collaboration with  CGC Tunis and CGC Nairobi. As the COVID-19 vaccine campaign moves worldwide, innovative approaches to vaccine campaigns are badly needed. How to build trust in vaccines among a weary, anxious and often skeptical public? Join us for a conversation among African and US policymakers, activists, nursing leaders and academics to dissect the elements of effective risk communications campaigns, with an emphasis on empowering individuals and communities to lead the charge.

Two recent Columbia University studies offer insights into community-based risk communication models. On the Frontlines: Nursing Leadership in Pandemics documents the leading role nurses played during the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone (2014-2016) and the COVID19 outbreak in New York City (2020). 1 A recent review of COVID19 pandemic responses in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa launched by WHO DG Tedros at the Schmidt-Futures Forum January 12 2021 reveals how community health workers and nurses have emerged as the most trusted and effective risk communicators – precisely because they are part of the communities they care for, and demonstrably place their own lives on the line.

The challenges at this juncture are complex. Vaccines cannot displace public health and social measures. Communications must be tailored to the audience, and calibrated to context, country and culture. The recent proliferation of SARS-COV-2 variants presents novel hazards. We must listen continuously and specifically to local responses to vaccine communications and administration protocols. At the heart of any possible success will be trust, and trust must emerge from honest, evidence-based risk communication conveyed by individuals and leaders who have earned the confidence of the communities they serve.


Natalia Kanem, United Nations Population Fund
Wilmot James, ISERP, Columbia University
James Oladipo Ayodele, Africa CDC
Donda Hansen, US CDC
Michael T Ghebrab, Catholic Relief Services
Jennifer Dohrn, Columnia University, School of Nursing
Chinwe Lucia Ochu, Nigerian CDC
Stefano Cordella, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
Sheila Davis, Partners in Health
Richard Garfield, US CDC
Victoria Rosner, Columbia University, English and Comparative Literature
Madeline Drexler, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Mark Heywood, Daily Maverick (South Africa)

Welcomes from:

Murugi Ndirangu, Columbia Global Centers | Nairobi
Youssef Cherif, Columbia Global Centers | Tunis

Send questions to [email protected]