The role of healthcare providers and academics in addressing vaccine hesitancy

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Cyubahiro Karangwa Verite, and Ms. Uwase Sandrine, two medical students from the University of Rwanda, Rwanda. They is 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 author

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. 

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