UCU team releases report on Covid conspiracy theory link to vaccination
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2022/09/ucu-team-releases-report-on-covid-conspiracy-theory-link-to-vaccination/
By Patty Huston-Holm with audio-visual by Conrad Okello
Covid-19 – a pandemic waning worldwide – was the topic of discussion for two hours on a Thursday morning in a far corner of the Uganda Christian University (UCU) main campus in Mukono. More specifically, the talk surrounded how false information contributes to health crises overall and how communication of legitimate facts and figures could alleviate sickness and death.
Dr. Geoffrey Rwabaingi Mulindwa, the director of medical services through Allan Galpin Health Center at UCU/Mukono, was among 40 of the combined in-person and on-line participants on Sept. 8, 2022. He listened as collaborators of public health, social science, journalism and business faculty presented their phase one research entitled “Conspiracy Beliefs and Covid-19 Vaccination Hesitancy in Uganda” and shared his perspective over a tea break.
Dr. Bacwayo expresses appreciation for report questions and comments.
“Covid is real,” he stated without hesitancy. “Vaccination should be as annual as a flu shot.”
The medical doctor, age 60 and seeing first-hand cases of coronavirus, notes that the worldometer estimate of 169,396 cases and 3,628 deaths in Uganda is lower than for most countries in the rest of the world. The Uganda data are derived mostly from heavily populated areas in a country that is 75% rural. Residents in the rural areas have been mostly spared from the virus because they are not as close in contact with other people as city dwellers. He estimated at least half of the Uganda adult population has received at least one dose of a vaccination to combat Covid.
Regardless, Mulindwa said vaccination is a means of overall improvement of public health, especially as other diseases – such as polio – are coming back. Numerous credible sources, including the Yale School of Medicine, in August 2022, report the re-emergence of this once-eradicated, crippling polio disease.
Prof. Kukunda Elizabeth Bacwayo, an Associate Prof. of Governance and Development in the School of Social Sciences and UCU Directorate of Postgraduate Studies, was the Covid-focused study lead investigator with a multi-disciplinary team of colleagues from UCU. Others on the team are Emilly Comfort Maractho, Richard Sebaggala, Solomon Mwije, Mercy Amaniyo, Clare Cheremoi, Evas Kemigisha and Jacqueline Kobusingye.
The team was awarded a UCU research grant to study how conspiracy beliefs affected Covid-19 vaccination hesitancy in Uganda. In a three-year project with an online and physical survey of over 1,000 respondents, the team is examining conspiracy beliefs and their implications for Covid vaccination in Uganda.
Among the Covid conspiracy beliefs are:
- The G5 cellular network is responsible for causing COVID-19.
- Bill Gates used Covid as a plan to depopulate the world.
- High-powered people released Covid on purpose.
- Vaccinations having microchips that can be used to monitor behavior.
The study’s main objectives are designed to measure such conspiracy beliefs and establish how they impact vaccination decisions for adults and their children.
The population engaged in the study is 47% male and 53% female from the Uganda areas of Mukono, Arua, Gulu, Sheema, Mbarara, Kapchorwa, Kabale and Wakiso. According to the study, inaccurate information is largely obtained through radio and social media via smart phones that are increasingly in the hands of both educated and less-educated persons.
“A lot of this false information was coming through WhatsApp,” Bacwayo said.
Conspiracy theories aside, among the data collected as of early September 2022 are:
- Information is more trusted from health care workers than government officials.
- Protecting other people is the main reason people get vaccinated.
- Lack of safe and effectiveness proof about the vaccine are the main reasons people don’t get vaccinated.
Bacwayo reported that worldwide, the percentage of the population threshold that needs to be immune to achieve herd immunity for any disease should be in the 60% to 70% range. The World Health Organization lists lack of vaccination as one of the top 10 threats to global health.
“Vaccine hesitancy is as high as 70% in developing countries,” Bacwayo said. “Conspiracy theories are the biggest driver to no vaccination.”
Among the questions and feedback from the roughly 24 in-person participants on September 8 was a question about the term “conspiracy,” the actual origin of Covid, why people believe false information, how Ugandan tribal traditions impact beliefs and the reality of a need to get vaccinated more than once.
“We are using this feedback to inform our next phase of the research,” said Dr. Maractho, who is part of the research team.
“We believe this study is relevant and that it will bear fruits in other areas,” Dr. Bacwayo said.
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