Social Media Comes to the Aid of Vaccination in Migrants

When Are People With Covid 19 Infectious?

With COVID-19 vaccination rates lower among migrant communities compared to the general population, the Governments could close COVID-19 vaccination gaps by breaking down language barriers and giving migrants easier access to information particularly through social media, according to a study published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the University of Potsdam.

Noting that the vaccination gap may be related to socioeconomic status, language barriers, lack of trust in institutions or limited legal access, the report mentioned that studies from several countries in the US and Europe, including Germany talks of low vaccination rates among migrant communities. IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) and the University of Potsdam tested the effect of language and trust barriers in Germany via a social media campaign in their study, “Promoting COVID-19 vaccination uptake among migrant communities on social media – Evidence from Germany”. A recent study by the Robert Koch Institute in Germany also revealed that the vaccination rate among migrants is 8 per cent lower compared to the native-born population.


GMDAC Director Frank Laczko said “more evidence on the interlinkage between migration and health is urgently needed.” “Many countries around the world have migrant populations, yet many of them do not consider the needs of migrants sufficiently in their vaccination programmes.”

Expensive national campaigns to boost vaccine uptake using print, TV, and radio often neglect social media. The results of the study show how specific groups can be reached more effectively and at low cost. “Social media is where misinformation spreads and it is important that official public health messages are visible online and reach out to communities that are generally not exposed to mainstream media, print or TV campaigns,” said Esther Haarmann, GMDAC Digital Communications Officer and coauthor of the study.


Local authorities often lack the resources to make translations available. Social media advertisements in the language of origin of migrants dramatically increased the interest in COVID-19 vaccine appointments, especially for newly arrived migrants (by 133 per cent for Arabic speakers, 76 per cent for Russian speakers and 15 per cent for Turkish speakers). Extrapolating the translation effect to all government outreach targeting migrants could have the potential to increase vaccination rates among migrants by 14 percentage points on average. This improvement would likely close vaccination gaps between migrant groups and the general population in Germany – and in other countries.

Results also revealed that ad content showing an official government representative was more effective in increasing interest in COVID-19 vaccine appointments than other messengers such as religious leaders, families or doctors, especially among recent immigrant groups in Germany (Arabic speakers in this study).

Lead author of the study Jasper Tjaden, Professor at the University of Potsdam, said “the results highlight the potential of local government authorities to reach migrants – a population often believed to have higher levels of mistrust in institutions.”  While the study focused on Germany, the methodology is scalable to other countries to improve outreach and support equitable access to health services, including for refugees, asylum seekers, migrants in irregular situations, and hard to-reach populations, the authors said.


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