Director, Vaccine Confidence Project
With potential new vaccines for COVID-19 on the horizon, we need to engage with public to understand their concerns and build vaccine confidence.
“Vaccinate, liberate!” That could be the rally cry to mobilise public enthusiasm around the remarkable and rapid scientific progress that has made it possible to have not just one, but multiple, new COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines which will finally help the world get back to some semblance of “normal” – or at least start the COVID-19 recovery path to a “new normal.”
Just think – we would be able to go back to work, get the economy back on track, spend cherished time with friends and families, attend sports events, go to concerts, and travel!
Addressing the challenges around vaccination
But not everyone is celebrating the value of vaccines. Some of the same people protesting against lockdown, and even masks, are also seeing vaccination as a form of control; ironically the one thing that has the potential to free us from the constraints of lockdown as well as, most importantly, freedom from disease.
This is one of many examples – including, but beyond COVID-19 – where there are vastly different, often polarised, interpretations of vaccines and vaccination.
Most people believe in the value of vaccines more broadly, with some having questions or concerns around one vaccine, but not others. There are some who are staunchly against vaccines, or at least opposed to the ways in which vaccines are regulated, recommended sometimes required by government.
These sentiments are not new to vaccines. The first organised “anti-vaccine” movement in the 1800s was actually call the “anti-compulsory vaccine league.” The protest was not against the vaccine, per se, but about the mandate requiring it.
The impact of coronavirus on routine vaccination
The pandemic has been a time when most governments have called for exceptional measures, limiting freedom of movement and socialisation, stopping some workplaces, even schools from opening – all to protect the public’s health.
In the meantime, many routine vaccines have fallen behind with all the restrictions and difficult access, alongside fear of contagion.
COVID-19 has been a challenge, but also allows an opportunity to show the power of a vaccine in ways never seen before – across society, the economy, and beyond.
I propose five ways to build confidence, not only in a COVID-19 vaccine but pave the way for a new relationship around vaccines and the public.
There are many different experiences, histories, beliefs, perceptions and genuine questions around vaccines. Listen to them, they may reveal more than you expected and help understand what is driving those beliefs.
Make communication a dialogue, engage multiple people in the community outside of the health services to be listeners, and help address concerns and questions.
Try something different than you have ever tried before. Try to think of anything else that is like a vaccine, think of metaphors. Does anything come close?
Involve those who are meant to get vaccines in designing the best strategy to reach them and their peers.
5) Vaccinate Liberate:
Think of all the ways that vaccination is a passport to freedom.