Enhancing community awareness about vaccine efficacy and efficiency in Uganda

World Immunisation Week event

The Unit in collaboration with Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and World Health Organisation (WHO) commemorated the World Immunisation Week in a one day event that was aimed at engaging with communities from central (Entebbe) and South Western Uganda (Masaka and Kyamulibwa) on the value of vaccines and vaccination studies in improving health.

Attended by  senior scientists and public health experts from the Unit, UVRI, WHO Uganda and community leaders, the interactive event featured two public seminars on ‘the elusiveness of an HIV vaccine” by Professor Pontiano Kaleebu (OBE) the Director Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) and Head of the Unit’s viral pathogens research theme, as well as “an update on the Measles outbreak in Uganda” by Dr. Josephine Bwogi the Principal Research Officer heading the Extended Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Department at UVRI.

While delivering his key note presentation, Professor Kaleebu highlighted the urgent need for continued funding to support comprehensive approaches that address the key challenges in HIV vaccine development. "Effective HIV vaccination remains one of the greatest challenges in vaccine research because of the genetic diversity of the virus. “Sustained funding is essential to drive innovative and comprehensive research dedicated towards finding an effective HIV vaccine." His presentation further highlighted that broadly neutralizing antibodies present an opportunity for researchers to continue the quest for an HIV vaccine.

Dr. Bwogi recommended the need for research to guide public health interventions in response to the recent measles outbreak and emphasized the need to sensitize communities about the key role vaccination plays in improving community health. "The recent resurgence of measles in our communities is a reminder of how useful immunisation is," she said. "It is important that we continue to educate and inform the public about the efficiency of vaccines in preventing such epidemics."

A vibrant panel discussion focused on the critical importance of involving communities in vaccination initiativesfeatured expert insights from Dr. Annet Kisakye the Team Lead of Immunization Vaccine and Development/National Professional Officer and Routine Immunization and Deputy cluster lead of Universal Communicable and Noncommunicable Disease Control, WHO Uganda Office, Assistant Professor Sheila Balinda, a senior molecular virologist in the Unit’s viral pathogens and vaccine research themes and Dr. Sylvia Kusemererwa, a clinical trials study lead at the Unit’s clinical research centre in Masaka district. They were joined by renowned faith leader and Chairperson of the Community Advisory Board (CAB) in Masaka  Father Emmanuel Katabazi Masaka and Ms. Esther Nakazi, a renowned science journalist. The plenary addressed the essential steps for creating safe and effective vaccines, the significance of vaccines within the community and the support needed by the Community Advisory Board (CAB) to ensure they can effectively fulfill their role in advancing vaccination efforts. 

Dr. Balinda detailed the rigorous infrastructure and protocols in place for developing safe and effective vaccines, emphasizing that this meticulous approach is key to successful public health outcomes. She remarked, "Vaccines go through an extensive process before they are made available to the public. Steps like employing skilled scientists, utilizing state-of-the-art laboratories, regulatory oversight and pre-clinical trials are all part of ensuring that vaccines are safe for human use."  

During her address, Dr. Annet Kisakye elaborated on the positive impact vaccines have on public health and community well-being. She  noted, “Vaccines  work and they protect communities from disease which in turn leads to a higher standard of living as it is easy for health communities to thrive economically.” 

Dr. Kusemererwa further called on policymakers to increase efforts on public education to combat vaccine hesitancy, dispel myths and misconceptions while Fr. Emmanuel Katabazi emphasized the importance of clear communication and inclusivity in community engagement to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the science behind vaccines. He stated, “It is important to engage and educate influential figures such as journalists and religious leaders, as they play a key role in shaping community involvement in research.”

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