People Are Hesitant to Take the Vaccine, And It Needs To Be Addressed Emphathetically

McGill Publications

A new editorial explains how vaccine hesitancy could negatively affect the attempts to halt the ongoing pandemic. According to the report, the vaccine hesitancy is blamed on the controversy, lack of confidence, and misinformation surrounding such issues as vaccine trial data, anxiety about vaccine safety, and people’s basic mistrust of medical establishment because of past or current bad treatment.

The report also shares that there is a distinct difference between those that are ‘vaccine hesitant’ as compared to actual anti-vaccine or “anti-vaxx,” which they describe as those that spread misinformation about vaccines deliberately.

More importantly, health experts must explain vaccine information with more empathy, they say. They must also answer any questions or concerns about the vaccines without bias or prejudice, the report explains.

Some of the issues that have made the Covid-19 vaccine rollout so difficult is vaccine supply and the worry over distribution. Yet according to the report , it’s truly vaccine hesitancy that could totally debilitate the global effort to end the pandemic, and it’s an issue that is going on worldwide.

In fact, a 2021 systemic review performed in December that looked at Covid-19 vaccine acceptance rates in at least 33 countries showed that the average rate of acceptance within the United States was just 56.9%.

The review also showed that the average U.S. rate of vaccine acceptance was actually quite close to such countries as France (58.9%), Poland (56.3%), Russia (54.9%), and Italy (53.7%), all that fell within the category of the lowest around the globe. Meanwhile, in other Arab and Middle Eastern countries were much lower, like Jordan (28.4%) and Kuwait (23.6%).

However, as of March 15, 2021, there has been an increase of vaccine acceptance in the U.S. to 61.7%.

Meanwhile, research is looking for ways to best address, as well as improve vaccine acceptance rates. In order to better do this, two outstanding researchers decided to co-author a new editorial that talks about vaccine hesitancy, the reason how it threatens vaccine efforts, as well as ways to tackle it.

The article is a joint partnership between associate director of the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. David. A Broniatowski, and director of The Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom.

The study has also been published in the journal Science.


The Difference Between Vaccine Hesitancy vs. Anti-Vaxx

According to the two study authors, they share that it’s very important to understand what the difference is between vaccine hesitancy and being anti-vaccine, otherwise called “anti-vaxx.”

They explain, vaccine hesitancy refers to “the delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccination despite the availability of vaccination services.”

They share that vaccine hesitancy is a ‘complex matter’ that happens to involve such factors as confidence, complacency, and convenience, which can also vary in such areas as vaccines, places and times. What this means is that while someone may be willing to take one type of vaccine, they are hesitant to take another specific vaccine. This can happen when they don’t feel like the vaccine will be safe or effective. Oftentimes, these particular feelings tend to begin from a consolidation of such things as ‘concerns, misinformation or miscommunications, and past or historical medical experiences.’

The research team also found that other individual factors concerning vaccine hesitancy were things like knowledge, beliefs, emotions, values, and perceptions of risk. Others things that could affect it are a number of historical, cultural, social and political factors too.

On the contrary, those that are anti-vaccine are basically against vaccines. In fact, the book published by Center for Countering Digital Hate called the Anti-Vaxx Playbook explains that anti-vaccine groups usually advertise these three pivotal messages:

  1. Covid-19 isn’t necessarily dangerous.
  2. The vaccine carries negative health risks or is dangerous.
  3. Vaccine advocates like public health officials or healthcare workers aren’t not to be trusted.

Then, they also say that these three key messages also bolster other universal anti-vaccine messages like the following:

  1. Claim other alternative cures exist.
  2. Falsely question the safety or efficacy of a vaccine.
  3. Claim that vaccines are somewhat immoral.
  4. Claim vaccine infringe upon individual civil rights.
  5. Claim vaccines are also linked to a wide range of health conditions.
  6. Claim vaccination efforts actually work toward or are related to conspiracies against the public.

The Centre for Countering Digital Hate also characterizes anti-vaxxers as such, “individuals who have made a conscious decision to use their online platforms to campaign against vaccines and spread misinformation about them.”

They add, “This makes them distinct from “vaccine-hesitant” people, which includes those who are unsure whether they will get a vaccine, and from those who simply have questions or concerns about new COVID vaccines.”

Also according to the new editorial, what adds to the difficulty is that the anti-vaccine themes and messages have become very widespread. The authors also claim that around 150 anti-vaxx organizations actually have over 10 million followers on their social media sites.

However, the authors also share that unlike vaccine hesitant folks, the anti-vaxx advocates tend ‘have associations with organizations with explicit financial, political, and ideological agendas and interests.’

The writers also iterate that those from vaccine hesitancy groups also have a vast and more diverse set of reasons for their hesitancy.

The authors state, “Those who refuse vaccines are not necessarily anti-vaxx, although vaccine-hesitant individuals may consume content from anti-vaxx organizations as they search for evidence to confirm or dispel their concerns.”

“The vaccine hesitant are therefore vulnerable to manipulation by anti-vaccine activists. They also risk being judged or labeled ‘anti-vaxx’ by the very people – healthcare professionals – who are best positioned to encourage healthy behaviors.”

How to Increase Empathy And Reduce Stigma

In order to help reduce the stigma, the authors deduce that health experts need to offer more information about the vaccines in a more empathetic way. That way, they can lessen the risk of stigmatizing those that are hesitant to get the vaccine. This includes making messages or information that at least acknowledges and addresses without judgement or bias the different reasons someone is hesitant to take the vaccine.

Co-author Larson says, “Messages about vaccines must be delivered in a way that is empathetic to avoid stigmatizing people who have questions about the vaccine. Particularly in the context of COVID-19, with all its uncertainties, people need to be reassured and feel that their concerns are heard.”

In order to do this, the study authors reiterate that healthcare professionals need to create influential and strong relationships in order to better address particular concerns over vaccine hesitancy. In fact, they even cite a few examples of what kinds of relationships could actually deliver this need.

One such examples is the Engaging in Medical Education with Sensitivity Initiative which was secured back during a measles outbreak in 2019. It involved Orthodox Jewish nurses that were helping parents among their community to come up with their own ideas when it came to vaccines. Through this, the nurses managed to listen to what the parents were concerned about, as well as provide them with the proper data and information on the vaccine.

Meanwhile, another study cited by the authors was one from University of Maryland called the Health Advocates In-Reach and Research Campaign. This helped barber shops and beauty salons in Prince George’s Country to become ‘culturally relevant places that deliver medical and public house services and provide health education.’

The study authors also share that in order to endorse the safety of the vaccines, as well as to restore people’s confidence in them, they need to hear from trustworthy sources.


Still a Long Road Ahead

Figuring out all the individual, distinct, wide-ranging and cultural factors that come into play with vaccine hesitancy is no easy job. Yet, unless almost everyone across the world agrees to get vaccinated, reaching herd immunity is going to be exceedingly hard.

Herd immunity is basically explained as the ‘natural protection from the virus that occurs when the rates of infection or transmission are very low due to large levels of immunity in a popular acquired from vaccinations.’

The number of vaccinations needed In order to achieve herd immunity for SARS-CoV-2 is yet unknown. In fact it even varies quite extremely, between other diseases. But considering it’s spread, it is also very likely that the percentage must be substantially high, even higher than the outcome from a number of ongoing vaccine studies.

However, despite all the discouraging trends and stats, there are a few estimates that share that the United States will slowly gain herd immunity by the summer of 2021, with rates ranging from at least 60% to 90%.

But the authors still explain in their work that before this occurs and finally brings the pandemic to a stop, it will still take safe vaccines to gain public confidence and trust.

The authors point out, “The world needs all the safe and effective vaccines that exist to end the pandemic. But it needs people who believe in them too.”