Minimizing Vaccine Hesitancy At The Local And Individual Level

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. George Mathew is a fourth-year medical student at Medical University – Pleven, Bulgaria. 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.

Human nature is unique and it is the smallest variations in the human genome that make us so distinct from one another. It is what provides us with the evolutionary resource to survive a myriad of adversities but it is also what must be understood to better tackle the beliefs and quirks our fellowman has, especially in the face of common adversity such as a pandemic that we must all face and are all accountable to in one way or another.

The WHO defines vaccine hesitancy as a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccination despite the availability of vaccination services and it is considered one of the major causes of death in the world. As the fight against the COVID – 19 pandemic continues, the need to immunize the ones that are hesitant increases, not only to prevent the creation of new, more infectious variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus but also to decrease preventable deaths.

Vaccine hesitancy is over 200 years old and is still a major public health issue. The best way to resolve it is to understand the reason for the hesitancy and try to provide information that addresses those reasons from a source that they both trust and respect.

Reasons can vary based on race, gender, religion and even geographical location within the same country. Thus the approach to quell any hesitancy must be unique to the individual and it is paramount for the communication of information to be tailored to their cause of reluctance.

Some of the ways to effectively communicate can be:

  1. When initiating a conversation with a skeptic or a vaccine-hesitant person, it is important to be non-confrontational, respectful and comprehensible.
  2. It is important to build trust and help the person realize that both of you have the same shared goal; i.e. their overall health and immunity because in the end, the vaccine-hesitant person is the ultimate decision-maker in whether to take the vaccine or not.

The trust factor is studied to be one of the most important of all and is therefore best entrusted in the hands of local community leaders that are present in institutions like local hospitals and churches instead of a more alien bureaucratic institution or large pharmaceutical companies.

  • Helping people to contextualize data in the form of risk assessment is also essential. It is often the case that younger people (that are demographically more hesitant to take the vaccine) underestimate their vulnerability to the disease and overestimate the risk vaccines may have. At this juncture providing statistics that are direct comparisons of risk of contracting disease vs. risk of vaccine complication can help.
  • Making people realize the ”quick development” of the vaccine was not done by foregoing protocol but with full compliance with scientific protocols along with randomized clinical trials under the supervision of well-qualified scientists.

The need to minimize vaccine hesitancy is paramount and must be addressed at a local level, tailored to the individual.

About the author

George Mathew is a fourth-year medical student at Medical University – Pleven. He is from the state of Kerala in India and is currently living in Pleven, Bulgaria to study medicine.

He is part of the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Peace (SCORP) in Pleven and is passionate about issues like modern war crimes, the influence of corporations in governmental policy making, climate change and migration & refugee flows. He is also the current Ambassador to Pleven (Bulgaria) for The European Student Think Tank.

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