Attending the ‘Packed Lunch: Vaccine Confidence’ lecture hosted at the Wellcome Collection was a refreshing OOO (out of office) excursion. It was also an excuse to celebrate World Apple Day as we were each offered a juicy Granny Smith on arrival – some ‘food for thought’.
The host promptly introduced researcher and lecturer from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to discuss the Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP), aimed at monitoring the state of vaccine confidence in the 21st century.
Why do we need a VCP?
Pauline expressed that the primary purpose of the VCP is to assess ‘public distrust’ in vaccinations. On a larger scale this project wants to help avoid vaccine programme disruptions, which in the ‘worst case scenario’ have the potential to result in a domino effect of disease outbreaks. The corresponding research paper ‘The state of vaccine confidence’ discusses the issue of low confidence having a negative impact on vaccine coverage. The more we doubt the necessity and efficacy of injections, the less likely we are to vaccinate and due to this we are at risk of shedding a protective layer against certain diseases. This is a phenomenon I had never really considered before and it certainly convinced me of the relevance of the project. The diagram below highlights how vaccinations work to provide us with protection against disease:
So why do people choose not to vaccinate?
Of course, public concerns regarding vaccinations are context specific, differ significantly on a global scale and attitudes vary depending on the different types of accessible vaccinations. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that the main factors relating to people’s ‘vaccine hesitancy’ include ‘misinformation,’ ‘complacency,’ ‘convenience’ and ‘confidence’. Pauline spoke to us about these themes and voiced the most common parental doubts she heard whilst conducting her interviews:
- “Do we need this vaccine?”
- “Can we afford it?”
- “Does it work?”
- “Is it safe?”
The occurrence of ‘misinformation’ in terms of vaccine safety was a particularly hot topic for Pauline who expressed that ideas can travel rapidly on the internet. It is no surprise that ‘two thirds of anti-vaccine sites are misleading’. Medical News Today highlights this issue noting that many anti-vaccine website report, 65.6% of anti-vaccine sites claim that vaccines are dangerous, 62.2% that they cause autism and 41.1% that they cause ‘brain injury’. Interestingly, most of these claims used anecdotal evidence and perhaps increasingly we are looking to internet sources for convenient and easily digestible healthcare information. The VCP highlights this gap in communication when it comes to informing people about the benefits of vaccinations and the necessary facts and figures. Why is it that anecdotal stories on the internet or from friends can be so convincing yet the ‘go ahead’ to vaccinate from healthcare professionals appears to be insufficient in persuading us to choose to vaccinate? Margaret Chan general director of WHO comments:
“The days when health officials could issue advice, based on the very best medical and scientific data, and expect populations to comply, may be fading.”
These ‘vaccine hesitancies’ translate into an emerging lack of trust in vaccinations. It seems that it is no longer sufficient for healthcare workers to simply inform us that we need to be vaccinated. We demand to know how necessary it really is and we want to know this in layman terms. It was clear just from sitting in the room that there were several attendees who held strong reservations and posed challenging questions to Pauline about the efficacy, necessity and safety of vaccinations.
I found the session thought provoking and came away with the following reflections:
- I am now more aware of the positive effect vaccination programmes can have on public health
- I am however conscious that the session exposed the increasing level of uncertainty, mistrust and lack of information about the benefits and risk of vaccination; an interesting comparison with perhaps 40 years ago
- Expectations are increasing as the public seek more reassurance and guarantees of the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations; this cannot always be a given
- There is a need for individuals to take more personal responsibility for informing themselves and making the most appropriate decisions for them and their families
- There is a significant need for clear, quality information regarding vaccinations, which is easily accessible and well communicated to the general public
Joanna Dorling | Junior Account Executive