Forbes: Religious leaders can help build vaccine confidence

14 February, 2020

Extracts below. Full text here:


'In Kenya, Catholic bishops and members of the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association and the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum have expressed distrust in the HPV vaccine. Some have falsely claimed that it doesn’t protect against cervical cancer, and could lead to brain damage and paralysis.

Victor Rasugu of the Network for Adolescent and Youth in Africa (NAYA) in Kenya, which advocates for the sexual and reproductive health of young people, explains that the government’s HPV campaign “was very controversial. The main opposition was from the religious sector.”

Not all Catholics share the same views, of course, but Rasugu is concerned about influential people opposing vaccines without evidence or thoughtfulness: ““At times it’s more rooted in the religious dogma, at times people are held hostage by the religious leaders who they believe should give direction…I would love to see where scientists take this discussion forward.”

Surprisingly little is known about the role of religion in shaping the general public’s attitudes towards vaccines. There are certainly plenty of cases of faith leaders discouraging vaccination, whether in the hope that this will prevent young people from having sex (it won’t), out of a more general attitude of fatalism regarding divine plans, or based on the contents of the vaccination itself...

Yet as infectious disease journalist Helen Branswell has noted, “no major religion objects to vaccination.” What exists instead is a patchwork of interpretations and opinions within each religious tradition...

There’s a great deal of diversity within and across religious groups regarding which vaccines are acceptable, and for which reasons. To avert more public health emergencies, it’s important to thoughtfully listen to people’s concerns, which may have some religious associations, and to enlist religious groups in overcoming them.

In devout communities, religious leaders are highly respected and trusted. Thus they’re a valuable, though underused, resource for shaping public opinion about vaccination.'


Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Information for Citizens, Parents and Children

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: