According to research by Professor Heidi Larson of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, vaccine hesitancy has grown steadily over the past 12 years. She said the phenomenon was partly driven by people feeling left out of the conversation about vaccine development and wanting to have a say in government interventions.
Some of the questions vaccine hesitants tended to ask were whether the vaccines actually worked and whether they were compatible with their religious beliefs. Notably, between 2015 and 2017/18, there was an increase in hesitation, particularly in Francophone Africa. The research also found that in 2015 the country most skeptical of vaccines was France, with 42% of its population not believing vaccines were safe.
Larson says his book, “Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start – and Why They Don’t Go Away captures people’s feelings about vaccines over the past 12 years, with the dominant concerns being issues of dignity, feelings of distress, being in an unstable environment, spreading ‘wildfires’ of misinformation on a global scale, the deep-rooted power of people’s beliefs, and science become the new dogma that feels inaccessible, didactic, and devoid of human emotions.
She said what was important to consider in addressing vaccine hesitancy was to “step back from the product and examine the feelings, lives and emotions” of the people who would be affected by the vaccines. vaccines.
Larson stressed that it was more urgent to put people’s stories among the scientific evidence and not just dismiss them.
Comparing how people have historically responded to viral threats, she said that when HIV/AIDS arrived, people felt like “it wasn’t real”. She said it was the same with Covid-19, where people thought it didn’t make sense, especially that it took hold in countries where it did, causing a “it can’t be real” reaction.
Larson said the pandemic caused by coronavirus was not necessarily a surprise because the scientific community expected something on this scale and initially thought the H1N1 virus would be. She said scientists had long wondered if they would be ready for a major pandemic and the answer had been “no”, which was why they were ill-prepared for Covid-19.
Although Larson has studied vaccine hesitancy for the past 12 years, she said she didn’t expect it to get this bad, attributing it to the viral nature of the misinformation fueled by the rate of technological change.
According to Larson’s research, people’s sense of disempowerment and loss of freedom (which is part of the root of hesitation) is not just about misinformation, but also about their beliefs, faith, and trust.
“No amount of misinformation will change people’s belief and faith.”
In the scientific community, the perception of vaccine risk is presented in numbers, but what people seem to make decisions about is how they instinctively feel about vaccines versus other risks in their lives – for example, being more concerned about pregnancy than HIV, so emotions often drive outlook, Larson explained.
She went on to point out that people also want to feel included in the vaccine development process. She said that in 30-40 years of work, she had never seen the public so engaged at different levels, but still disconnected from the scientific community.
Larson’s research found that people generally agreed that vaccines were important, but they became skeptical about vaccine safety. She said that in countries where people were confident in their government’s response to Covid-19, vaccine hesitancy or skepticism tended to be lower.
Another issue that Larson’s research highlighted was the “prayer against vaccine” debate, and that where people’s religious beliefs were deeply held, they tended to turn to religion because they saw it as being more stable and familiar, thus instilling deep trust so that when faced with things they weren’t so confident about, they would fall back on those religious beliefs. SM/MC