Building Vaccine Confidence: Answering Audience Questions

by Edmund Byamukama, Broadcasting Journalist with Tropical FM 88.4, Uganda @tropicalfmug @nebyamukama

Microphone and sign that reads "On Air"
Photo by Fringer Cat on Unsplash

Vaccine hesitancy appears to contribute to suboptimal vaccination coverage, which may lead to disease outbreaks, increased health expenditures, and needless deaths. Misinformation and lack of access to balanced and accurate information is a major contributor to low vaccine confidence in Uganda. I have been receiving a steady stream of COVID-19 vaccine questions from our radio audience. Here are curated questions that I have been receiving in several variations – from on air phone-calls, physical field interviews, radio social media channels and website. In addressing these issues, here below are the corresponding important answers that I broadcasted in my radio-show broadcasted on Sep. 24.

Throughout the evening show, audience members had the opportunity to hear their questions answered in a 2 hour show as I shared my insights on COVID-19 vaccinations and the levels of mistrust around them. The discussion focused on clarifying the negative public perceptions of vaccines, their historical drivers and how we can address past misinformation and build confidence in vaccines as communities continue to move forward to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, for almost two years after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the virus, the vaccine and its related effects remain among the most pressing topics in our communities and the media. As Ministry of Health, leaders and community gatekeepers across Uganda gradually invite their populations to be vaccinated, many questions and common myths continue to persist surrounding the important COVID-19 vaccine technology that is critical to addressing a virus that has infected over 219 million and killed over 4.5 million people worldwide. Uganda has to-date vaccinated only 2,058,553 (4.1% of population) given 1+ dose whereas only 1.0% is fully vaccinated. 

Most people are somewhere along the spectrum of maybe just having one question that makes them a little bit uncomfortable until they have their questions answered, they can willingly take a jab.

In an effort to build vaccine confidence, I answered questions submitted by my radio listeners. Here are their responses:

Why do I need to get a vaccine if I have a 99% chance of surviving COVID-19?

It’s much safer to take the vaccine and avoid getting COVID-19 altogether, because the disease can have serious, life-threatening complications. If you become infected with COVID-19, you may develop health problems that last your whole life. You can also infect others if you’re infected yourself.

Will a COVID-19 vaccine affect my ability to have healthy children?

No, messenger RNA (mRNA), the active ingredient in the approved vaccines, never enters a cell’s nucleus where DNA resides. The vaccines only train your body to recognize and destroy the COVID virus.

Why should I get a vaccine that isn’t 100% effective?

COVID-19 is a serious, contagious disease. Taking one of the currently available vaccines reduces the likelihood that you’ll get infected. It also protects others by reducing your chance of spreading the virus to them.

Why should a vaccine be needed if we have other public health measures that prevent covid-19 from spreading?

Stopping a pandemic requires using all tools available, including: acquiring immunity against COVID-19, avoiding contracting and spreading COVID-19 by respecting preventive measures, wearing of masks. Together, being vaccinated against COVID-19 along with following public health recommendations will offer the best protection from COVID-19 for yourself and those around you.

If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. The COVID-19 vaccination should be offered to you regardless of whether you have already had the COVID-19 infection previously. The protection from a vaccination appears to provide more effective protection. However, those who are currently infected with COVID-19 should postpone vaccination until after their illness has run its course and after they have met their health authorities’ criteria to discontinue isolation.

Can I get the COVID-19 vaccination if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?

WHO does not recommend discontinuation of breastfeeding after vaccination. Scientists are still studying the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people. But based on how these vaccines work in the body, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant. If you are pregnant, you may choose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccine was developed so quickly, is the vaccine safe?

While COVID-19 vaccines have been developed faster than any other vaccine in history, safety was as much a focus as in any other vaccine development. Scientists prioritized COVID-19 vaccine development because of the global emergency. The technology that has been used in these vaccines is also tried and tested and has been under use or research for many years.

What are the benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccine will reduce your risk of getting COVID-19, it keeps you from getting seriously ill even if you do get COVID-19, and getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you. Vaccines prepare your body’s natural defenses to recognize and fight off the virus that causes COVID-19.

I’ve heard that COVID-19 vaccines were developed to control the population through microchip tracking. Is this true?

No. There is no vaccine microchip and the vaccine will not track people. This myth started after comments about a digital certificate of vaccine records. The technology in reference is not a microchip, has not been implemented in any manner and is not tied to the development, testing or distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Is it safe to receive the COVID-19 vaccine with other vaccines?

Yes. As of now, there is no information that contradicts use of COVID-19 vaccines with other vaccines. Information on the safety of receiving COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other vaccinations is still being collected.

How effective is the COVID-19 vaccine and how long will protection last after vaccination?

COVID-19 vaccine is effective in preventing severe disease and death. However, it is too early to know if COVID-19 vaccines will provide long-term protection. Research is still ongoing.

Can the vaccine give me COVID-19?

No. The vaccine only works to program your body to produce antibodies to fight the corona virus disease. The vaccine does not cause COVID-19. None of the approved vaccines contain the live virus that causes COVID-19, so they can’t make you sick with the disease.

What are the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines?

The COVID-19 vaccines can cause temporary side effects like fever, headache, feeling tired, sore arm, or chills. They usually last just a few days and go away on their own.

Will getting the COVID-19 vaccine affect a woman’s menstrual cycle?

There is currently no scientific evidence to say the vaccine itself causes a change in menstruation patterns. Changes in menstruation following vaccination could be linked to the body’s stress response to the immunization or the pandemic; the changes could also be a coincidence.

Can I still donate blood if I have received a COVID-19 vaccine?

The health guidelines state that individuals that have received COVID-19 vaccine can donate blood without a waiting period between receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and donating blood. The Red Cross has stated that if you have been vaccinated against COVID-19 you can still donate blood.

Will the COVID-19 vaccines provide protection against the COVID-19 variants?

It is unknown whether the new virus strains will affect the efficacy of vaccines in the long run. Approved vaccines have reported that their vaccines produce immune responses that recognize and neutralize variant strains. The health authorities continue to monitor this situation.

How many doses of vaccines have to be taken and at what time interval?

Different types of vaccines have different vaccination schedule. The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine requires only one dose. Most COVID-19 vaccines require two doses in order for them to work. The recommended dosage for the Astra Zeneca vaccine is two doses given intramuscularly with an interval of 8 to 12 weeks. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses separated by 21 days. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine requires two doses separated by 28 days. Ideally, individuals would also receive both doses from the same facility. However, if a second dose is given beyond the specified grace period, the series does not need to be restarted.

If I get a COVID-19 vaccine, will it cause a false positive for covid-19 diagnostic testing?

Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will not cause a positive PCR or antigen laboratory test result since these specific tests check for active disease and not whether an individual is immune or not. However, it should be noted that the antibody test (or “serology test”) may be positive in someone who has been vaccinated, since that is a specific test that measures COVID-19 immunity in an individual.

Who shouldn’t get COVID-19 vaccines?

Everyone over age 16 should get a COVID-19 vaccine, except people who have a history of severe allergic reactions to ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccines. People with serious allergies to other vaccines or injections should talk to their doctor before getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Is there a toll-free number, website, or social media group for community members to get more information about COVID-19 vaccine?

For more details about the COVID-19 vaccination exercise, visit the Ministry of Health website  or call the Ministry of Health Toll free line on 0800 100066 and 0800 200 600 or alternatively visit the WHO website

In my next series of building vaccine confidence, I will look for, and interview people who used to be hesitant and changed their minds and got vaccinated.