Digital platforms can increase COVAX uptake. We explain.

By Steve Maina, Social Media Optimization Manager, Digital Health and Monitoring and Judy Mwangi, East Africa Regional Monitoring Advisor, Digital Health and Monitoring, PSI

Driving global behavior change for COVID-19 prevention and vaccine uptake using Meta tools 

Omicron is here. COVID prevention and vaccines are integral to stemming the rising tide of global infections.  

At PSI, mobile-based digital solutions are an integral part of driving critical and life-saving behavior change.  

The evidence shows that advancements in mobile phone technology enable us all to reach global audiences with information within a very short time. However, these channels come with inadvertent effects of spreading misinformation on public health matters like COVID-19 knowledge, prevention and more so, vaccination efforts.  

How can we leverage the power of digital and the reach of mobile to deliver life-saving and trusted health information to consumers – everywhere?  

Alongside 26 PSI country offices across Africa, Asia and Latin America, we partnered with Meta (formerly Facebook) to design and deliver social behavior change (SBC) campaigns on Facebook and Instagram to do our part in curbing the ever-evolving pandemic.  

Emerging Insights  

But first, we needed data. 

Using Meta’s Audience Insights’ tool and the University of Maryland COVID Trends and Impact Survey, we identified communities who were especially hesitant to follow COVID prevention and vaccine guidance, the key elements fuelling COVID-19 misinformation, and barriers to vaccine uptake. We gained insights into consumers’ preferences for vaccine uptake and how we could pave access to support consumers to choose to get a COVID vaccine. 

Among key insights: 

  • Most countries witnessed a lower perception of vaccine safety compared to vaccine importance. Even though over 57 percent of Meta users in Cambodia understood the importance of COVID-19 vaccines; only 64 percent thought COVID-19 vaccines were safe. 
  • Overall, vaccine hesitancy was higher among African countries as compared to most other continents. For instance, among countries with the highest hesitancy in Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Siri Lanka and India), average hesitancy was around 40 percent; while Cameroon, Tanzania, DRC, and Benin recorded the highest hesitancy in Africa (approx. 56 percent).  
  • COVID vaccine hesitancy among women was mainly attributed to vaccine safety and side effects. 
Developing Insight-Driven Digital Health Campaigns 

Countries began by reviewing vaccine hesitancy data among key target populations by age, gender, geographies, and where people turned to for COVID-19 prevention information. From there, they designed appropriate campaigns to reach consumers with relevant, quality and tailored information: 

The Cambodia Bokator that was watched 18 million times
  • To address concerns on safety and side effects, we developed audience-tailored campaigns on Meta tools that highlighted the rigorous scientific testing and safety records of the COVID-19 vaccines. Campaigns included a Meta Messenger-based chatbot where users could access frequently asked questions and WHO-developed content on COVID-19 vaccines. 
  • PSI used localized content to drive higher engagement rates, such as PSI Cambodia’s use of a ‘Bokator’ (Ninja) character in the Khmer language. 
  • Using the latest national COVID-19 infection rates and vaccine availability data, PSI India prioritized COVID-19 prevention campaigns rather than a vaccine uptake campaign during the delta variant surge in mid-2021.  
Our Impact  

26 countries underwent Meta-led trainings to design and run campaigns related to vaccine confidence, preventative behaviours and combating misinformation.  

The outcome: 

In Focus: Changing COVAX Behavior—For Good

In Mozambique, campaign activities resulted in a significant lift on perceptions of safety and importance. This implies that people who had the opportunity to see the ads had additional positive responses to the campaign compared to those who did not see the ads. The lift was higher among males aged 18-24.

At the height of the pandemic, over 95% of women in India already understood the importance of wearing a mask—and yet only 84% reported wearing one to prevent the spread of COVID-19. PSI India, through its COVID-19 campaigns, created a significant lift among in motivating audience to wear masks, especially younger women aged 25-34.

In Angola, our campaigns led to a significant increase in people washing their hands and practicing social distancing.
  • Reach: As of December 30, 2021, PSI reached over 160 million people, with over 1 billion impressions secured through our campaigns.  
  • Social behaviour change: PSI ran campaigns measured by Brand Lift Studies (BLS) in 15 countries, with many recording positive impact on COVID-19 knowledge, attitudes, intentions and practices as a result of the SBC campaigns.  
Factors driving success in the campaigns 

  • Data-informed decisions: PSI country teams leveraged Facebook’s Data for Good resources, including data on COVID-19 cases, prevention practices, vaccination rates, vaccine hesitancy rates and reasons categorised by age, gender, location to identify potential high impact target audiences in each country and design relevant campaigns.  
Kenya ad that featured a priest to encourage people to get vaccinated
  • Localizing ideas: PSI country teams created their own content, aligning ads with local government campaigns and other contextual factors like culture, trusted influencers and channels (i.e WHO website).   
  • Adaptations: Once campaigns were activated, teams continually monitored engagement statistics and BLS results to further adapt messaging approaches for subsequent campaigns. In many cases, factual information on COVID-19 received higher engagement rates, as well as testimonial content from country leaders and celebrities taking the vaccine.  
Looking Ahead

There is a significant opportunity for public health organizations and Ministries of Health to collaborate and develop best practice for using consumer digital health tools, like the Meta suite. 

PSI seeks partners to develop engaged consumer digital health communities of practice to share experiences, learn from each other and provide platforms for partners to collaborate and develop open-source global goods and guidance on the use of social media platforms for health. Working together, public health implementers and partners can leverage digital platforms to reach consumers cost-effectively and at scale for health impact during COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. 

Interested in working together? Contact Martin Dale ([email protected]). 

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