As you likely know, researchers have discovered another COVID-19 variant that is pushing South Africa into the headlines yet again. At this point, there is a lot that we don’t know about Omicron, but one thing is clear: now more than ever, people need up-to-date information about the constantly changing landscape of COVID-19 infection and prevention.
Public health experts suggest that the vaccine is still the best form of protection we have against severe illness and death. With over 500 youth reporters mobilized to keep their communities informed about the virus, we are working hard to expand access and encourage uptake of the vaccine in the countries where we work, starting in South Africa and eventually expanding to Zambia, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ivory Coast.
South Africa’s vaccination program began in May and now all those ages 12 and up are eligible. Public health researchers have been trying to get to the bottom of why South Africans, young and old, are not turning up in large numbers. For some, vaccination sites are far from home. For others, standing in line means missing work and losing income. Many South Africans say they feel ill-informed about the vaccine or admit to believing the conspiracy theories that proliferate on social media.
“In my community many young people say they are afraid to get the vaccine,” says youth reporter Puseletso Tjiyane. “But that is changing and many are now going for the jab after listening to the vaccine information that’s being shared on our radio shows.”
At the Children’s Radio Foundation, we know the role radio can play in sharing accurate and up-to-date health information with listeners. In South Africa, we have trained 100 youth reporters at 10 radio stations to communicate clear, transparent, and consistent messaging that shares the benefits of immunization and addresses specific misinformation or concerns. Partnering with public health organizations, our goal is not only to drive up youth vaccination rates, but also to operate as vaccine champions for all.
Youth reporters are stepping up to help register older community members for vaccination and helping them get to the vaccination sites. They realize that their role is not just to share information, but also to make it happen. This community activism and can-do spirit is at the heart of what we do.
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