Vaccine Hesitancy: Communication is Key
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
Our 73 members operate in very different contexts worldwide but the best tool in our arsenal to defeat meningitis remains the same: vaccines. Not only are they the best form of prevention against meningitis but they are also widely considered to be the greatest public health intervention since clean water. Vaccines prevented an estimated 1.2 million deaths from 2000-2015 and have helped to eradicate diseases that used to kill millions such as polio and smallpox.
What is vaccine hesitancy?
Despite all of the good that has come as a result of vaccines, there are a minority of people who do not vaccinate themselves or their children. This is often referred to as ‘vaccine hesitancy’. A complex phenomenon that involves many different factors, vaccine hesitant individuals often doubt the safety or effectiveness of vaccines – uncertain if the benefits outweigh the supposed risks. While the vast majority of people are pro-vaccine and vaccine hesitancy only affects a small proportion of our total population, the WHO listed it as one of the top ten global risks to health in 2019 due to the possibility of disease resurgence.
The harmful consequences of vaccine hesitancy were evident last year in the USA when, almost two decades after the country was declared free from measles, cases of the disease soared to 1,282. Before the vaccine was introduced in the USA during the 1960s, 500 people a year would die from measles and 4 million cases were reported every year. Experts have associated the sudden resurgence of measles in the USA with a decline in vaccination rates, in part attributable to a lack of access but also vaccine hesitancy.
Given the worrying return of preventable diseases previously thought to be eradicated, CoMO’s 2019 Global Conference served as a vital forum to discuss how to engage in constructive conversations around vaccines. Rekha Lakshmanan of The Immunization Partnership led an informative and interactive session on vaccine hesitancy session, supplemented by member case studies.
In the 18th century, people thought that the cowpox vaccine created by Edward Jenner would turn them into cows.
What causes vaccine hesitancy?
Vaccine hesitancy has existed since the invention of the modern vaccine by Edward Jenner. Nowadays, medical experts have broadly divided the causes of low vaccine uptake into two categories:
Behavioural reasons, for example, someone who believes that vaccines are harmful)
Failure of health services
The causes of vaccine hesitancy can be very different and so acknowledging the distinction between these barriers and creating tailored, context-specific responses is needed to ensure vaccine coverage is high enough to ensure herd immunity and prevent epidemics.
How can you communicate the benefits of vaccination?
During CoMO’s conference, we looked at the different concerns people might have about vaccines and how our members can engage in constructive dialogue to communicate the robust scientific evidence underpinning the benefits of vaccination. We learnt about the CASE model, developed by the Autism Science Foundation as a method that encourages constructive dialogue amongst individuals who are unsure about the benefits of vaccination. (Note: this model is not effective with the very small minority of people who consider themselves “anti-vaccine” and are firm in their position).
1. Corroborate: Acknowledge concern and find some point on which you can agree. Set the tone for a respectful, successful talk. 2. About me: Describe what you have done to build your knowledge base and expertise. 3. Science: Describe what the science says. 4. Explain/advise: Give your advice, based on the science.
CoMO’s Global Conference gave delegates the opportunity to share their experiences
Our members are acutely aware of the importance of prevention through vaccines – their lives have been impacted by diseases like meningitis that could, in some cases, have been prevented. As a result they engage in these kinds of conversations regularly, not because they’re easy but to protect other families from unnecessary suffering.
Thank you to the Emily’s Dash Foundation for supporting the session, and a huge thank you to session leader Rekha Lakshmanan of The Immunization Partnership as well.
 Helen Bedford et al. ‘Vaccine hesitancy, refusal and access barriers: The need for clarity in terminology.’, Vaccine, (36.44), 22 October 2018, Pages 6556-6558