Fighting Vaccine Hesitancy Through Community Radio and Social Media

Female radio producer in Bangladesh
Written by: Rakhshindah Akhtar, Program Associate

From mass media to community outreach to user-driven social media campaigns, Breakthrough ACTION in Bangladesh has worked across media and in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh, civil society, and communities to encourage Bangladeshis to get immunized against COVID-19.

Breakthrough ACTION has partnered with one FM station and 16 community radio stations through the Bangladesh Community Radio Association (BCRA), reaching a combined total of 25.5 million people with relevant and timely COVID-19 information and messages. These programs and messages reinforce preventive measures for COVID-19, strengthen local adherence norms, and dispel myths about vaccine and prevention measures. The flexibility of community radio, and its reach in rural areas, has allowed Breakthrough ACTION to include a variety of messages tailored for those who are more hesitant toward vaccines: the elderly; rural, semi-urban, and slum populations; farmers and day laborers, and homemakers; those with less schooling; and those with a low level of trust in the country’s health system.

Mohsina Mina, a radio producer has been working at Radio Sagorgiri, a community radio station in Sitakunda of Chattogram division in Bangladesh, has aired Breakthrough ACTION’s many programs, including the drama series, short dramas, public service announcements (PSAs), and Facebook live phone-in sessions. She noted that the radio programs had an impact for her personally.

“I had been urging my 70-year-old mother-in-law to get vaccinated,” she explained. “She was scared, skeptical, and had low trust in vaccination and the delivery system. However, after listening to episodes of Golpo Kotha, the drama series from [Breakthrough ACTION] that addressed COVID-19 vaccine side effects, myths, misinformation, and rumors, she decided to get vaccinated. Now, she is eagerly waiting for her third dose.”

Fighting vaccine hesitancy through community radio

Overcoming vaccine hesitancy is not easy. There are many myths, rumors, and misperceptions about the COVID-19 vaccines that make people scared to use them. To bring about behavioral change towards vaccine hesitancy and acceptance, Breakthrough ACTION produced four PSAs, the 14-episode drama series, Golpo Kotha (with six episodes addressing vaccine hesitancy), 32 episodes of various enter-educate shows, and eight Facebook live phone-in shows, and it customized folk songs to address the many barriers to getting vaccinated. The programming aired on the 16 community radio stations and was supported with five days of community miking in each of the 16 broadcasting areas.

Using a variety of formats for broadcast on community radio enabled Breakthrough ACTION to reach a wide audience with effective and reinforcing messages. Mina noted, “As I am a lactating mother, I took my first dose of vaccine after consulting with the local physician last month, and I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the vaccination center. Even a few months back, people were reluctant to take vaccines. Now, there was a festive mood. A vaccine-positive environment has been created, and many students were excitedly waiting for their turn, thanks to vaccine communication facilitations of [Breakthrough ACTION]. Moreover, everyone was wearing masks!”

The community radio and Facebook programs acted as bridges between families in communities and were a trusted source of information about COVID-19 health guidelines including mask-wearing, frequent handwashing, and vaccines. The messages resonated with local populations and addressed their concerns bringing about positive attitude towards immunization, increase in awareness, and adherence to COVID-19 preventive measures even after vaccination. Other areas of the world with community radio may benefit from using a similar approach.