Getting the Word Out About the Pneumonia Vaccine: Media Coverage in Kenya Raises Public Awareness

Mar 12011

A new vaccine, expected to reduce by 50% the number of infant deaths linked to pneumonia, received extensive coverage in the Kenyan press thanks to the work of Knight International Health Journalism Fellow Rachel Jones.

Melinda Gates and Rachel Jones discuss news coverage of the vaccine’s launch.

Even before health officials made the vaccine freely available to the public, citizens already knew that the PCV10 vaccine could significantly cut child mortality linked to pneumonia. In the months before the vaccine was launched, Jones arranged for journalists belonging to the Kenyan Alliance of Health and Science Reporters (KAHSR)—a new association she recently formed—to meet with the scientists and researchers who had developed the vaccine. Among them was Dr. Anthony Scott, the lead researcher on the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine Impact Study.

The result: widespread coverage in some of the country’s leading news media outlets, and turnout so high that scores of parents crowded into local facilities and waited in long lines to get their children vaccinated. “Striking a Fatal Blow at Pneumonia” was the headline of a four-page spread on the new vaccine in The East African, a regional, weekly news magazine owned by The Nation Media Group. The series included an exclusive interview with Dr. Tatu Kamau, the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation's director of vaccines and immunizations. Kamau lobbied to study the vaccine’s effectiveness and applied for funding support. Though generally inaccessible to the press, Kamau discussed the history of the vaccine research with Jones and two active members of KAHSR.

Publications such as the Daily Nation’s “Living Magazine” and the People Daily also ran informative pieces. “The new vaccine presented a perfect opportunity to bring reporters and researchers together in a way that would benefit both sides,” said Jones. “We held our first workshop at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), where the vaccine was developed. It helped the reporters understand how the vaccine works, giving their stories the kind of substance many had lacked in the past.”

Jones had the opportunity to discuss news coverage of the vaccine’s launch with Gates Foundation co-founder Melinda Gates, who was in Nairobi to check on the organization’s vaccination drives. During her visit, Gates observed as infants received the new vaccine, and toured Kenya’s improved cold storage facilities for the medication.

“It was gratifying to be able to meet with her and tell her about ICFJ’s work in Kenya,” said Jones.