We should get ahead of vaccine hesitancy before new vaccines come out.

Uncertainty and Misinformation Vaccines

Recent headlines have been filled with news about the H5N1 “avian flu” outbreak in birds and cattle. The situation is quickly evolving, requiring public health officials and communicators to stay up to date and provide rapid and regular updates. Concerns about our country’s readiness to deal with another pandemic are growing, including insufficient data collection on livestock and the use of monitoring techniques like wastewater surveillance. Some have criticized communication about H5N1 by federal officials, pointing to delays in updates and not enough data transparency.

Against this backdrop, we have been repeatedly reassured that should there be a larger outbreak among humans, we have the vaccine technology to quickly rein it in. While there is debate about our ability to scale up vaccine distribution quickly enough, we’ve seen very little discussion about another potential barrier to keeping people safe during a new outbreak: vaccine hesitancy.

For those of us working in the field of vaccine hesitancy, it is not surprising that this topic is missing from the discussion. It is a natural human inclination to wait to respond to things until they reach a certain level of urgency. It is not in our nature to plan ahead, especially when trying to address an incredibly complex social and psychological problem. But in a perfect world, what could we be doing to get ahead of vaccine hesitancy before the next pandemic?

While we don’t know everything about how people will respond to a vaccine roll-out before it happens, there are some common patterns in vaccine hesitancy that could help us better prepare. This Nerdy Girl has developed a framework to understand the “vulnerability factors” associated with a vaccine and the best tactic(s) to use in response to each factor. For this exercise to work, public health authorities need to think about what features of the vaccine make it most susceptible to hesitancy and misinformation. Perhaps it’s a new technology (like mRNA vaccines were in the beginning) or perhaps the vaccine has weak efficacy, leading people to question the point of taking it. Whatever it is, the feature should be fleshed out in advance to create a profile of the vaccine’s most prominent vulnerabilities. Based on those vulnerabilities, we can come up with tactics. If weak efficacy is the problem, we might focus on how the vaccine might help us avoid getting very sick even if we still get the illness. If new technology is the problem, we might focus messaging around other technologies in our lives, like MRIs, that were once new but people have accepted. Whatever the case may be, the point is that it is possible to get ahead of vaccine hesitancy, and it should be part of the discussion right from the beginning any time there’s a novel infectious disease threat.

Preparedness is power! Let’s encourage more conversation and planning around potential resistance to new vaccines so we can deploy techniques that work.

Stay safe. Stay well.

Those Nerdy Girls

Link to Original Substack Post