From memes to trial protocols: the world academies’ new toolkit to fight vaccine hesitancy
A new report by the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) highlights practical recommendations for improving the uptake of vaccines
26 APRIL 2022. Countries around the world are starting to ease COVID-19 restrictions, but the pandemic is far from over and new variants such as BA.2 continue to emerge. Today, vaccines are still the most effective way of fighting the infection and a new report by the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) – the global network of more than 140 academies of science, health and engineering – puts in the spotlight the socio-political and psychological issue of ‘vaccine hesitancy’.
IAP’s ‘Countering COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy’, launched during World Immunization Week 2022 (24-30 April), is based on overviews by leading experts in their fields that were presented during an IAP Global Webinar on ‘Countering Vaccine Hesitancy’. The report provides concrete examples and factual information that various groups, including academies and other scientific bodies, governments and healthcare providers, pharma companies, journalists and the media, and individuals (including individual scientists) can use to counter vaccine hesitancy and promote vaccine acceptance.
- Establish participatory engagement and open debates, including with minorities and other marginalised communities.
- Make adjustments to vaccine roll-out plans based on peoples’ feedback and concerns.
- Avoid politicising the debate.
- Do not avoid questions of ‘uncertainty’ (in the face of an evolving pandemic and ongoing research situations), including over the issue of side effects.
- Continually monitor roll-out and potential emerging and evolving causes of hesitancy.
- Manage expectations about vaccine effectiveness and uncertainty about time-frame for ‘returning to normal’.
- Provide up-to-date information on any adverse reactions, including break-down of data.
- Incentives and disincentives may be used to increase vaccine uptake, but coercive policies should be strictly limited and based on robust scientific evidence.
- Avoid repeating false claims and giving too much focus on tackling misinformation.
- Visual imagery (including theatre) and memes can be effective and engaging ways to convey key information. Such accessible material can help people make sense of things in this uncertain period.
The full list of recommendations is available in Section 4 of the report, which is freely available at https://www.interacademies.org/publication/countering-covid-19-vaccine-hesitancy.
Following an Introduction, Section 2 focuses on ‘Vaccines: Development and Regulation’ and reviews how vaccines work, the main ways that vaccines are developed, and how vaccines proceed from the laboratory through the clinical trial process to registration and approval for roll-out. It also attempts to allay fears regarding some of the main causes of vaccine hesitancy.
Section 3 focuses on ‘Vaccine hesitancy: Factors that affect people’s decision to choose vaccination’ and reviews the potential causes of vaccine hesitancy, including factors that are inherently linked with individual’s dispositions (e.g., values, beliefs and attitudes), as well as factors that are dependent on the situation (e.g., the pandemic and the spread of information and/or misinformation). Special emphasis is placed on the societal factors that affect how people intercept, acquire and disseminate mis/information, including the political landscape (with increased polarisation), the knowledge landscape (with distrust in scientists) and the media landscape (with an increased risk of spread of different kinds of false information). This section concludes by reviewing some ways in which academies and other scientific organisations can begin to address the causes behind people’s vaccine concerns.
“In any population, there are people who will accept a given vaccine, and people who will strongly reject it. Then there are those in the middle who are undecided – hesitant –and may need more information or gentle persuasion in order to accept the vaccine. As these people may comprise a significant proportion of any given population, it is critical that we address this hesitancy in order to persuade as many as possible to accept a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Sir Richard Catlow, IAP co-president and former foreign secretary of UK’s Royal Society.
“Achieving this goal will not only require knowledge of the relevant scientific facts, but also an understanding of the reasons behind people’s reluctance to embrace vaccination, which likely also requires an understanding of their psychologies, their in-groups (i.e. the social group/s to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member), and engagement with the media, including especially social media”, adds Depei Liu, IAP co-president and former vice president of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
The report is based on the following presentations:
- ‘What are the different kinds of vaccines?’ by Dr. Toni Gabaldón, Professor, Comparative Genomics Group Barcelona Supercomputing Centre (BSC-CNS), and Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), Spain; Member, Member, IAP COVID Expert Group; Alumnus, Spanish Young Academy.
- ‘How do vaccine trials and approvals work?’ by Dr. Margaret (Peggy) A. Hamburg, Vice President, Global Biological Programs and Policy, Nuclear Threat Initiative; Co-Chair, IAP Health.
- ‘What are the factors of vaccine hesitancy?’, by Dr. Biljana Gjoneska, Research Associate, Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts; Member, IAP Young Physician Leaders (YPL) Alumni Steering Committee.
- ‘How to tackle mis- and disinformation?,’ by Prof. Herman Wasserman, Professor in Media Studies, University of Cape Town, Centre for Film and Media Studies, South Africa; Member, Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf).
- ‘Discussion panel: How can academies disseminate positive messaging to build vaccine confidence?’ by Prof. Gagandeep Kang, Professor, Wellcome Trust Research Laboratory, Christian Medical College, Vellore, India; Co-Chair, IAP COVID Expert Group; Member, Indian National Science Academy (INSA), and Prof. Hak-Soo Kim, Distinguished Professor, College of Transdisciplinary Studies, Daegu-Gyeongbuk Institute of Science & Technology, South Korea; Fellow, Korean Academy of Science and Technology (KAST)
Giovanni Ortolani, IAP Communication Assistant