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. Erick Enock Magese, a Tanzanian 4th year medical student at Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences located in Mwanza, Tanzania. He 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.

Safe and successful Covid-19 vaccines have rapidly developed at an unprecedented rate in order to control the spread of the virus. This has helped to prevent hospitalizations and deaths. Regardless of such efforts, uptake of COVID-19 vaccine is highly challenged by vaccine resistance(1).

Vaccine hesitancy is being referred to as delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccination despite the availability of vaccination services (2).

The reasons for delaying and/or refusing COVID-19 vaccination are categorised into 3 groups which include;

  1. Individual barriers

These factors include attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and health literacy. A particular group of people hesitate to use vaccines from specific Vaccine Brands. Other groups view vaccines as unsafe and deadly since their fear of the COVID-19 vaccine and its effects was greater than the virus and outcomes. Also, health literacy is low among particular individuals since they are misinformed.

  1. Interpersonal barriers.

This includes family influence and opposition to vaccines. Most individuals recognise the influence of their family members on their health decisions including getting vaccinated.

Misinformation spread by networks and perceived conflicts of interest of health professionals.

  1. Structural barriers: Health systems and service delivery

Inadequate supply of vaccines contributed to the delay of vaccination. (1)

What communication strategies can be used to approach vaccine hesitancy in Covid-19?

Avoiding repeating false claims.

This calls upon to emphasize facts over misinformation. The risks of amplifying and strengthening false claims occurs when misinformation is repeated. It is very important to warn patients in situations where addressing vaccine misinformation is unavoidable. The warning of patients should be done before confronting them literally by saying “the following claim is misleading”.

Identify trusted messengers.

Credibility is increased when people trust the person or institution that is delivering messages about COVID-19 vaccination. In spite of everything, it is important to know that different groups have different trusted messengers. They also have preferred media and communication channels. Hence, first identify trust gaps in communities then find trusted sources to carry public health messages to fill in those gaps.(3)

Provide information on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Individuals often turn to their fellow for hints and suggestions on how to behave, says the report. Rather than focusing on the naysayers, vaccine uptake should be visible since it can encourage vaccine acceptance as a social norm.(3, 4)

1.               A M L. Amit, M M Dayrit, V C F. Pepito, Tanchanco. LS. COVID-19 vaccine brand hesitancy and other challenges to vaccination in the Philippines. 2022.

2.               R R Marzo ea. Hesitancy in COVID-19 vaccine uptake and its associated factors among the general adult population: a cross-sectional study in six Southeast Asian countries. sian count. 2022.

3.               S. Berg, M S. 8 communication strategies to boost COVID-19 vaccine acceptance. 2021.

4.               S. H. Raza, U. Zaman, et al. Can communication strategies combat COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy with trade-off between public messages and public skepticism in Pakistan? 2021.

About the author

Erick Enock Magese is a Tanzanian 4th year medical student at Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences located in Mwanza, Tanzania. He is also a member of The Tanzania Medical Students Association (TAMSA) and a former National officer of SCORE – Standing committee of Research Exchange for the regime 2020-2021.

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