COVID-19 Peer Hub combats vaccine avoidance amid pandemic - University of South Australia

COVID-19 Peer Hub combats vaccine avoidance amid pandemic

Reda SadkiWriting

ADELAIDE, 27 November 2020 (University of South Australia) – More than 80 million children under the age of one at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases.

UniSA researchers are evaluating a new vaccination education initiative – the COVID-19 Peer Hub – to help immunisation and public health professionals tackle the emerging dangers of vaccine hesitancy amid the pandemic.

From March to April 2020, more than 50 per cent of immunisation programs around the world have reported significant disruptions to their vaccination services.

The new program is developed and delivered by The Geneva Learning Foundation, and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the COVID-19 Peer Hub programme is connecting more than 4000 immunisation professionals across the globe – most of them working in developing countries – in a bid to keep essential vaccination programs open and safe during COVID-19.

UniSA’s Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning has been engaged by the Geneva Learning Foundation to research the COVID-19 Peer Hub. Preliminary findings show that it is fostering new approaches for immunisation staff who often remain the most trusted advisors and influencers of vaccination decisions.

Reda Sadki, President of The Geneva Learning Foundation says overcoming vaccine hesitancy is now a primary challenge for immunisation professionals.

“In 2020, immunisation has never been more important. But amid the pandemic, routine immunisation services have been severely disrupted, leaving more than 80 million children under the age of one at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases,” Sadki says.

“Because of the infectious nature of COVID-19, many people have been reluctant to bring their children to public health facilities for fear of infection. But, by avoiding immunisations, they’re placing their children at risk of other vaccine-preventable diseases including measles, polio, rubella and rotavirus, which can be life-threatening for very young children.”

The Geneva Learning Foundation COVID-19 Peer Hub is working to remedy this by providing a forum for thousands of immunisation professionals to connect and share new ideas and existing practices to tackle vaccine hesitancy, maintain immunisation coverage despite the pandemic, and prepare for COVID-19 vaccines.

UniSA project lead, Dr Vitomir Kovanović, says such initiatives are critical for building collective wisdom that can be leveraged and adapted to counteract vaccine avoidance.

“Current information sharing processes are hierarchical and slow, losing too much information as it progresses down the chain,” Dr Kovanović says.

“By connecting immunisation professionals from around the world, there is a fantastic opportunity for sharing new ideas and existing practices that can contribute to maintain immunisation coverage during the pandemic.

“Importantly, with more than more than 90 per cent of participants reporting that the program has been useful for their work, we’re clearly onto a good thing.”

Reda Sadki, President of The Geneva Learning Foundation says that education initiative has delivered a valuable and timely resource for health professionals.

“We were already building a digital platform to support immunisation staff when the pandemic hit,” Sadki says.

“We had very little time to pivot. The Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning has provided – just in time – the capability, talent, and tools we needed to make sense of the deluge of data that participants have been generating.

“Furthermore, these data are empowering immunisation staff to generate ideas and turn them into action and results, while informing ministries of health and global partners in ways that simply would not be possible without learning analytics. The Centre is truly helping us ‘close the learning loop’.”

Notes to editors

The full project team includes Dr Vitomir Kovanović, Dr Sasha Poquet and Professor George Siemens, and current and former UniSA Masters of Data Science students: Aastha Rawat, Sidarth Nair and Bipin Karki.