Callis Communication Transcript


Callis Communication Transcript


CALLIS: It was such a dynamic time, things were changing daily, that you just never really knew what the day was going to look like. We hadn't launched yet, we were really working hard to get--I mean, a clinical trial can take years of planning. We were working really hard to get all of the pieces in place from even the buildings. We had to refurbish some buildings. It was logistically a really heavy lift. It took us a long time to get it off the ground and actually launch. Prior to that, from a communications and social mobilization standpoint, Sierra Leone had never seen a [vaccine] clinical trial. Nobody had ever done one. We were in the midst of a horrific emergency. We needed to be able to talk to the potential participants in a way that gave them the information so they could make an informed decision, but didn't promise. People were so desperate for a solution. We wanted to really be clear, this was a trial, we didn't know. We had a good sense that it would probably work [but] we didn't know. We didn't want to hold out hope in the middle of this emergency, and so it was a delicate--it was a bit of a tightrope, trying to talk to people about the trial and their participation in it.

Q: Can you talk more about, so what that communication work really entailed in the beginning?

CALLIS: Before I came, there were folks who literally mapped out every single hospital, every single Ebola treatment unit, every single Ebola holding unit, everything, so that we knew where all of the potential participants were. The trial was only open to healthcare workers and frontline workers, burial workers, people who swabbed out the ambulances, things like that, and the reason why was because they were at highest risk. They were dying by the numbers. I remember when I got to Sierra Leone in February, I went to Connaught Hospital, and I had been there years before, and when I walked in, every wall was plastered with obituaries. Photos of all the nurses and doctors who had died, and it really hit me. I think there's a great responsibility that comes with that. This country had a fragile healthcare system to begin with. And then they lost so many of their best and brightest. And we, I felt a deep responsibility to both honor the risk that these people were taking, but also make sure that we provided them all the right facts, so that they could really decide if they wanted to participate or not.

Once we had done this enumeration of all of those hospitals and everything, we literally went to every single hospital and we sat down and gave an information session where we talked about everything from the science that had come before this trial, what we knew, what they could expect, what we felt that some of the side effects would be. All of these things. After, we opened it up to questions, and everybody was able to ask their questions and everything. We did this in hundreds of places. And probably talked to, unfortunately we don't have great records, but I would guess that it was upwards of one thousand to two thousand at least. Then, if they decided they wanted to participate, when they came to the actual vaccination center, we again did a smaller information session and allowed them to ask questions. Then they did an informed consent one-on-one where they would sit down with someone who spoke Krio or Temne, or whatever it was that their native language was. Often cases, it was English. They would go through the informed consent step by step by step, and allow them to ask any additional questions at that point. It was a very high touch and in-depth process, but from an ethical standpoint, I feel very strongly that we did it exactly the way it should have been done.

Q: What makes you think that?

CALLIS: Well, we--first of all, the response was amazing. We never had backlash, we never had any big rumors or backlash against the trial. I think a lot of that was due to the fact that we one, worked so hard to provide the right information to the participants. But we also worked with the community. I sat down with chiefs in the area that we were working in, and would sit and talk with them, and I would go back every six weeks, or part of my team would go back every six weeks and update them and the mayors and the city council and hospital administrators. We really made it a priority to continually communicate with these people and make sure that they felt a part of this process, and that they could talk to us if they had concerns. Because we knew that they were people that the community was going to talk to, and say hey, we heard about this vaccine, what's going on? I think that was really important. It's ethical, it's respectful when you're in a country to sit down and talk with the stakeholders and the leaders. But it also helped our trial. We had hoped to enroll six thousand people--we enrolled over [eight] thousand. There was a lot of support for this. A lot of hopes hung on it.


“Callis Communication Transcript,” CDC Museum Digital Exhibits, accessed June 14, 2024,