Pakistan vaccine covid
A paramedic prepares a vaccine to administer to a worker at a vaccination centre in Karachi. Image Credit: Reuters

Islamabad: Pakistan’S government has announced to expand its efforts to encourage vaccination while combatting online misinformation about COVID-19 in partnership with Facebook.

The collaboration has helped people spot false news and allowed officials to monitor misinformation. In Pakistan, over 32 million people received reliable information re-garding coronavirus prevention and vaccination through social media messaging campaigns led by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Information’s Digital Media Wing (DMW) in partnership with Facebook.

“The messaging campaigns helped the health ministry increase its total number of page likes to 470,000” — increasing the government’s ability to connect with more people and provide them authentic information, the official statement said.

Appreciating the support extended by Facebook to counter the COVID-19 infodemic, Dr Faisal Sultan, adviser to the prime minister on health affairs, said: “We reached 76 per cent of our target population through social media messaging campaigns. The pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of using digital tools for transmitting critical health information to citizens and keeping them safe and healthy.”

Throughout the pandemic, Pakistan’s health and information ministries have worked closely with the digital platforms to help people stay safe and informed with awareness messages in Urdu. “It is crucial to differentiate between information and misinformation in the age of digital communication. Facebook has supported the spread of accurate information through their drive of removing misinformation and fact-checking of news” said Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry. He expressed hope that the digital platform would continue to collaborate with Pakistan to “ensure that people are provided with accurate information.”

Vaccine confidence

Pakistan government’s Digital Media Wing (DMW) has been at the forefront of combatting health-related misinformation throughout the pandemic. “One of the important step to win the battle against COVID-19 is to create awareness among the masses with the latest and authentic health information and at the same time fight the disinformation on social media,” Imran Ghazali, general manager at DMW, said. “Our partnership with Facebook has played a critical role in reaching the masses with information related to vaccine registration, following of SOPs and we will continue to work with Facebook to reach and engage more people across Pakistan”.

Talking to Gulf News, Imran Ghazali said that the current focus is on “increasing vaccine confidence across Pakistan while tackling misinformation” about vaccination and addressing the hesitancy through engaging and educational videos and messages in both English and Urdu.

Encourage vaccination while fighting misinformation

As COVID-19 vaccines are becoming widely available to larger groups, Facebook has also launched profile frames that say either “Let’s Get Vaccinated” or “I Got My COVID-19 Vaccine” to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

Facebook “will continuously work towards making the fight against the pandemic easier for the government and our community in Pakistan and across the globe. We hope to keep extending our support and expertise where possible in the Government of Pakistan’s fight against COVID-19,” Sehar Tariq, public policy manager for Pakistan at Facebook, said. Thanking the coordination and support from Pakistani officials, she said: “It is important that we come together as a community to protect ourselves and each other through credible health information and support vaccine confidence in our community.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Facebook said it has removed more than 18 million posts on its main social networking site and the photo-sharing app Instagram for violating the platforms’ policies on coronavirus related misinformation. Governments, non-profits, and international organizations have sent more than 3 billion messages on COVID-19 to citizens through the WhatsApp chatbots.

Facebook introduced stronger measures against COVID-19 misinformation after the social media giant faced sharp criticism over how its platforms have been used to spread fear about vaccines and disinformation about the coronavirus.