Early into the COVID-19 pandemic, countries in the Pacific Region worked hard to keep the SARS-CoV-2 virus outside their borders, until COVID-19 vaccines could be developed. Even before made readily available, COVID-19 vaccines became the subject of widespread speculation, misinformation and disinformation, with some of these efforts targeted to the Pacific Region. The demand for appropriate and effective scientific communication efforts suddenly increased. Areas of immunological focus pertaining to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 vaccine needed clarification for the general public and lay audiences everywhere. Efforts to communicate complex immunological based content pertaining to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in particular while in various degrees of lockdowns became more reliant upon online platforms. Prior to the widespread use of Rapid Antigen Testing for COVID-19, one of the many areas of interest was the PCR testing methodology for COVID-19 which also became a focus of mis/disinformation in the Pacific Region. The purpose of this work was to apply an approach for countering mis/disinformation about the SARS-CoV-2 virus in particular, with a strong focus on the immunological aspects through an online Pacific Fono (gathering) to support appropriate scientific communication. Participants gave positive feedback, indicating this approach was relevant, helpful, with requests for more Pacific Fono. This work showed that an appropriate, contextualised scientific focus upon the immunological aspects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 vaccines, could help counter mis/disinformation efforts against COVID-19 vaccines.

Wellington School of Medicine & Health Sciences, University of Otago