Fear and misinformation about vaccination puts Iraqi population at risk, new CARE study warns

Photo: Shakir Muhammad, 31, at Talafar Hospital in Northwest Iraq, for a COVID-19 test. CARE supported Talafar Hospital's COVID-19 testing facility in Northwest Iraq through funding equipment and supporting training. Credit: CARE / Agency Ostkreuz Johanna Maria Fritz

Dohuk, August 30, 2021 A recent study by the humanitarian organization CARE in Iraq found that almost 70 percent of the population is reluctant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The main blockers are fear of side effects, misinformation about the effectiveness as well as logistical challenges around the vaccination process.

CARE interviewed 3,770 people in Ninewa and Dohuk Governorates, nearly 60 percent of them internally displaced or refugees. The study also reveals that women overall have less access to and knowledge of COVID-19 vaccination than men. Only 30% of women said they knew how to register for a vaccination versus 50% of the men.

“This study is an urgent call to action for the humanitarian community and the government of Iraq,” says Wendy Barron, CARE Iraq Country Director. “It is simply not enough to provide vaccines; we need to invest much more in community awareness and combating misinformation. It is hard to trust in something when you hear so many rumours and hardly know anyone around you who has been vaccinated already.”

One of the most common reasons people give for not being willing to get a vaccine is that they fear severe side effects such as infertility or even death. Another common fear is that the vaccines are counterfeit.

CARE’s study also finds that some of the best means to counter misinformation and ensure that people make an informed choice is to engage social media platforms. 60% of men and 46% of women responded that social media is their main source of information about COVID-19. Ensuring adequate and targeted information on social media about COVID-19 and preventative measures such as vaccines are critical at this point. At the same time, multiple sources of information are important: People also stated that a clear message from the Ministry of Health, local doctors and the WHO would be reassuring.

“We need to ramp up our information efforts, especially for displaced people and refugees who already face enormous challenges to receive adequate information and health services,” notes Wendy Barron. “This is a job for all of us here in Iraq. Vaccines are available and could save lives, people just don’t know about them or have heard mixed or even false messaging. We need everyone to reiterate the benefits of vaccination, from the Iraqi government to local and religious leaders, to nationwide prominent figures with reach and influence to the whole aid community working on the ground. Now is the time for a concerted effort.”

About the study

The survey was conducted in July in the governorates of Ninewa and Dohuk, including different segments of society, with people from different ages and religious/ethnicity backgrounds. Including these different groups was considered essential when comparing attitudes, knowledge and practices across communities. The data was collected from 3770 individuals through survey, 34 individuals through key informants' interviews and from 128 Individuals through 16 focus group discussions, 2 per location (one with men, one with women). The full report can be accessed here.

About CARE in Iraq

CARE reopened its programming in 2014 after a military offensive in Ninewa displaced hundreds of thousands of people into the Kurdish Region of Iraq. Together with local partners, CARE delivers humanitarian assistance and long-term recovery support to the most vulnerable population. To help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, CARE Iraq has been adapting its water, sanitation and hygiene, health, livelihoods and gender activities. Awareness messaging has been delivered through door-to-door visits, text messaging and social media platforms. Health facilities have been equipped with laboratory supplies, disinfectant and personal protection equipment. To mitigate and prevent gender-based violence, CARE has also been providing information on referral pathways and support services available in different regions.