Vaccine hesitancy in COVID-19: how can we approach it with efficient communication strategies

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. CYUBAHIRO Karangwa Verite, MD’25, and UWASE Sandrine, MD’26, two medical students from the University of Rwanda, Rwanda. They are affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Vaccine hesitancy remains a barrier to full population inoculation against highly infectious diseases. Since the 21st century, vaccine hesitancy has been on the rise around the world being listed as one of the top ten threats to global health by the World Health Organization (WHO) In 2019. (1,2) Vaccine hesitancy is defined as the patients’ reluctance to receive vaccines. This is fueled by a spectrum of held views regarding vaccination spanning, lack of trust in science-related with systemic failure to mitigate COVID-19 to date, lack of trust in the government and public health organizations since they are concerned that the vaccine process is driven by political and business ends which all are associated with misinformation and myths about Vaccines leading to the growth anti-vaccine advocacy movements. One of the ways to mitigate this is through efficient communication strategies as discussed below. (3–5)

A survey undertaken by YouGov as part of a 5-year study found that public trust in journalists, politicians, and company bosses is very low: distrusted by about four out of five (4/5) respondents. Trust in academics is much higher, at 64%. : 94% of respondents thought scientific experts have valued sources of information about vaccines counting 92% for doctors and nurses. (5,6) This indicates that academics and health workers have a crucial role in communicating to the public about the virtues of vaccines.  

There is a need for efficient communication strategies to increase vaccination among the public and decrease hesitancy by creating trust and confidence in the vaccine and motivation to be vaccinated. This can be done through verbal delivery of true information and knowledge about the vaccine to the public done by a certified agency. (7) The healthcare provider should recommend the vaccine hence a positive motivation towards vaccination as they are trusted. While giving the information, the health care provider should be open-minded, non-judgmental, and focus on the benefits of the vaccine, not just the consequences of not getting vaccinated, and talk transparently about the side effects to the vaccine-hesitant person. (6,8,8,9)

Healthcare providers should become acquainted with social media platforms using to increase communication between themselves and the public.(1,3,10) Health agencies and government websites should also improve their overall media presence by fostering partnerships with social media platforms, televisions, and radios to accelerate the promotion of evidence-based public-health strategies on vaccination. Information can also be shared by other people such as influencers, medical students, journalists, and other highly respected people to increase the effectiveness of awareness campaigns and outreaches but in consideration that the information being given has been carefully reviewed by an expert.

On the whole, Information about COVID 19 and its vaccination should be translated into all languages, easily understandable, and accessible to people everywhere. (4) Science offers evidence-based information about the benefits of immunization. Vaccines do not save lives, vaccination does, let’s speak up and outweigh the anti-vaccination protests and campaigns. (11) There is an opportunity to persuade vaccine-hesitant individuals, and it is important to identify them early before they become vaccine refusers. #LongLifeForAll.

References

1.         Vrdelja M, Kraigher A, Verčič D, Kropivnik S. The growing vaccine hesitancy: exploring the influence of the internet. Eur J Public Health. 2018 Oct 1;28(5):934–9.

2.         Dror AA, Eisenbach N, Taiber S, Morozov NG, Mizrachi M, Zigron A, et al. Vaccine hesitancy: the next challenge in the fight against COVID-19. Eur J Epidemiol. 2020 Aug;35(8):775–9.

3.         Gunaratne K, Coomes EA, Haghbayan H. Temporal trends in anti-vaccine discourse on Twitter. Vaccine. 2019 Aug;37(35):4867–71.

4.         Faasse K, Chatman CJ, Martin LR. A comparison of language use in pro- and anti-vaccination comments in response to a high profile Facebook post,. Vaccine. 2016 Nov;34(47):5808–14.

5.         Shen S (Cindy), Dubey V. Addressing vaccine hesitancy. Can Fam Physician. 2019 Mar;65(3):175–81.

6.         Kennedy J. Vaccine Hesitancy: A Growing Concern. Pediatr Drugs. 2020 Apr;22(2):105–11.

7.         McGee Li, Suh J. Communication Strategies to Address Vaccine Hesitancy in Healthcare Settings and on Social Media. J Appl Res Child Informing Policy Child Risk [Internet]. 2020 May 15;10(2). Available from: https://digitalcommons.library.tmc.edu/childrenatrisk/vol10/iss2/7

8.         Betsch C, Brewer NT, Brocard P, Davies P, Gaissmaier W, Haase N, et al. Opportunities and challenges of Web 2.0 for vaccination decisions. Vaccine. 2012 May;30(25):3727–33.

9.         Meleo-Erwin Z, Basch C, MacLean SA, Scheibner C, Cadorett V. “To each his own”: Discussions of vaccine decision-making in top parenting blogs. Hum Vaccines Immunother. 2017 Aug 3;13(8):1895–901.

10.       Vaccine hesitancy [Internet]. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. [cited 2022 Apr 25]. Available from: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/immunisation-vaccines/vaccine-hesitancy

11.       Vaccines don’t save lives, vaccination does. Lancet Reg Health – West Pac [Internet]. 2021 Jan 1 [cited 2022 Apr 25];6. Available from: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanwpc/article/PIIS2666-6065(21)00008-0/fulltext

12.       Buller DB, Walkosz BJ, Berteletti J, Pagoto SL, Bibeau J, Baker K, et al. Insights on HPV vaccination in the United States from mothers’ comments on Facebook posts in a randomized trial. Hum Vaccines Immunother. 2019 Aug 3;15(7–8):1479–87.

About the authors

CYUBAHIRO Karangwa Verite, MD’25, and UWASE Sandrine, MD’26, are medical students from the University of Rwanda, Rwanda. They are both affiliated with MEDSAR Rwanda (IFMSA NMO) in the Standing committee on Public Health. Verite is passionate about global health and global surgery, advocacy, and youth empowerment. Sandrine is more interested in women’s empowerment, and equitable healthcare and highly advocates for health for all. They both share the same enthusiasm for research where they believe in research to solve current problems.  

Comments

  1. Let me take this opportunity to thanks Mr Verite and Ms Sandrine for this article that aims at solving some of the challenges faced in the health sector. It’s of great importance to give people a platform to share ideas and perceptions about the topic at hand.
    Vaccine hesistancy during COVID-19 outbreak has been one of the major reasons as to why people never gave attention to being given COVID-19 vaccines. This is evidenced in some countries where COVID-19 vaccination was completely impossible to implement. There are several reasons behind this kind of people’s reaction towards vaccination which may include cultural beliefs, misinformation from people, negative attitude towards vaccines, side effects of vaccines to mention but a few.
    Even though there’s hesitancy of vaccination, efforts can be put together to solve this challenge.
    – Having community health teachings about the importance of vaccination. This helps people to appreciate it’s importance and have confidence to stop some people who may want to mislead them.
    – Carrying out a sensitization programs to local leaders, religious heads as these people have a great influence to people they lead. Once they have clearly understood the importance of vaccination, they may help the health sector to quick pass information to people easily about vaccination. This maybe done in churches, mosques and other religions based assemblies.
    – Using quick means of communication such as radios, televisions to educate the public about the purpose of vaccination and it’s importance to people’s lives.
    – Social media has been turned into business during the times of hardships such as COVID-19 outbreak and other disease outbreaks, people tend to post misleading information with the aim of gaining likes, comment, reactions name it. This rather affects thousands of people around the globe. I think people should always trust information from recognized sources such as the MoH, UN, WHO but not from sites owned by individuals such as YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp to mention but a few.

  2. Olivier SIBOMANA says:

    Vaccine hesitancy is a great hindrance to herd immunization. Efficient strategies must be applied to reduce vaccine hesitancy and increase the rate of vaccine uptake.

  3. I’m very thankful for my buddies Mr Vérité and Ms Sandrine! Thank you for this insightful research. Truly, the lack of effective communication is still a big problem in our days. And when it comes in relation with the lives of people, something must be done; communication must be improved as well as possible. People must be aware of for example the risks of hestating vaccination, importance of being vaccinated and even side effects of being vaccinated. This will increase their confidence in vaccination.

    Thank you!

  4. Josue Nature says:

    Am glad to read and an approach written by medical students nowadays where people are surrounded by dim of not being interested with makin’ research on serious issues like this vaccine hesitancy. Youth members safe generation are even some medical are busy with memes and social media poss something which is worst at all regarding what’s going on within the health sector right away…
    Back in the topic, it sounds something different when it comes to vaccination especially most cases were arose on COVID-19 pandemic due to these reasons:
    # Stereotypic ideas from different perception, whereby most people took COVID-19 as a medical weapon made only for white men, and Africa none our business to put into consideration…
    # Religion occupations also raised some denial ideologies at the level even some medical intellectuals refused to be vaccinated! Very strange. What is this?
    Here we can highlights many discouragements that hindered the implementation of the COVID-19 Vaccination when we try to back in those past innocent days, and allow me to leave the follow to there ones who will type their comments. But I can’t quit without mentioning some mechanism that can be productive not only for today’s fight against Vaccines Hesitancy, but for always:
    #Heath sectors together with government, may set and impose serious penalties like not allowing people who are not vaccinated to join the public events, even at international level through international treats and conversations. Though people may claim their rights of doing what they want, but no one is allowed to spoil others because of denial to be vaccinated…
    # There should be some incentives to motivate the ones who were vaccinated as well as those who are volunteering to encourage others to come and enjoy the importance of protecting yourself through vaccines.

    Thank you Mrs U. Sandrine and C. Verite, your zeal and contribution is of great importance for today’s happy healthy implementation and a stone to fight against Vaccines Hesitancy.

  5. UFITINEMA Jean Aristide says:

    In the information age. Social Media is control of people lives and choices. The problem is that health system is still shy from it, while misinformation continue to spread on social media. It’s time for health system to take social media serious and start using it effectively and efficiently to spread the right information to people and gain their trust back

  6. Let me take this opportunity to thank @verte and @sandrine for this intense concern about covid -19 vaccine hisatancy.
    In fact , community need fully understand the importance of being vaccinated as well as risks associated with coping covid-19 vaccine , these to be puted into practices through motivation, sensitazation and so on, mong diferentiated sectors and other concerns.
    We thanks this medical students from university of rwanda. For this big role they play. it means alot to other students and community in whole.

  7. Let me take this opportunity to thank @verte and @sandrine for this intense concern about covid -19 vaccine hisatancy.
    In fact , community need fully understand the importance of being vaccinated as well as risks associated with coping covid-19 vaccine , these to be puted into practices through motivation, sensitazation and so on, mong diferentiated sectors and other concerns.
    We thanks this medical students from university of rwanda. For this big role they play. it means alot to other students and community in whole.

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