Budapest/Almaty, 19 February 2021 – A social media chatbot has been launched in an innovative bid to share accurate, trusted information to counter vaccine hesitancy. The chatbot was developed by the Red Crescent of Kazakhstan and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). It followed research undertaken late last year by the IFRC and the Red Crescent that found high numbers of people saying they would refuse the coronavirus vaccine for themselves or their children.
The study also found people’s most trusted sources of information about coronavirus infection were social media and television, with these channels far ahead of more formal sources, including medical personnel.
Yerkebek Argymbayev, President of the Red Crescent Society of Kazakhstan, said:
"Creating a chatbot is an opportunity to keep up with the times and simplify many processes. With this bot people will be able to learn what they are interested in; from the myths associated with the coronavirus and vaccines, to the opportunity to enroll in first aid courses.
“We have also provided food and vouchers to more than 14,000 people since the beginning of the pandemic so the bot will relieve some of the burden on employees and allow them to perform their tasks more effectively,” Dr Argymbayev said.
The chatbot is a computer program that interacts with people through social media. When people ask it a simple question or a comment the chatbot automatically provides an answer, directs people to the service they want, or passes on the comment to the best person. This hugely increases the ability of the National Society to provide people with direct access to accurate, reliable information, while freeing up staff and volunteers who would otherwise be responding.
Bayarmaa Luntan, Head of the IFRC’s Central Asia office, said the IFRC is supporting the Red Crescent of Kazakhstan in investing in online and social media communication to ensure people can access credible and reliable information about the disease and vaccines.
“People are telling us that social media networks and messaging apps - and the platform Telegram in particular - are their main sources of information.
“While there was high recognition among people of the need to take preventative measures (90%) the research also pointed to knowledge gaps; for example, only one in three people reported respiratory droplets or contact with an infected person as a way for COVID-19 to be spread.”
Further research supported by IFRC is ongoing in Kazakhstan and nearby Tajikistan, listening to people’s fears, doubts, hopes and needs, and using this knowledge to support people through this crisis.
IFRC is also supporting Georgia Red Cross Society to develop a chat bot to respond to questions, feedback, misinformation and rumours on COVID-19.
Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Red Crescent of Kazakhstan has provided food and vouchers to vulnerable people across the country including older people living alone, people with disabilities, single parents and large low-income families.