Vaccines – getting the message across

Written by | 28 Nov 2020 | Infectious Disease

Knowing that your GP or pharmacist has had the vaccine can be deeply reassuring, according to Gary Finnegan, health journalist and Editor of Vaccines Today.

When communicating about vaccines it is important to remember that most people who have questions are not ‘anti-vaccine’ as such. They have questions and they need answers. In the absence of a good answer to a question the vacuum is filled with misinformation. The key to success is to target the ‘fence-sitters’ or ‘swing voters’. “You won’t always reach or change the mind of someone who has a really strong conviction about vaccines but you can reach those who are just hesitant”, says Mr Finnegan.

Regarding online anti-vaccines voices, Mr Finnegan says, “At Vaccines Today we spend a lot of time online on social media – Twitter, YouTube, Facebook – trying to communicate about vaccines and answering peoples’ questions and we do sometimes come up against anti vaccines criticism or questions. What is really important is that you are seen to make an honest effort to give an answer, to show that there is an answer”. Sometimes the questioner will come back with a new question or will not be satisfied and will keep sharing objections and sometimes become aggressive. In this situation Mr Finnegan advises being as patient as possible and being seen to make a fair attempt to “deal with this with a straight bat”. “The important thing to remember is that your audience is probably not the person who is anti-vaccines and is asking a question. The audience is a third party viewer who is watching to see how you both deal with this issue and they will decide who the more credible voice is”, he emphasises.

Vaccine misinformation has been a long-standing problem but in the covid-19 era it has been amplified. There is also an unprecedented global effort to push back – involving national agencies, scientific societies and global organisations. In fact the United Nations (UN) has a ‘UN-verified’ campaign that is designed to help people to recognise misinformation. In addition, the WHO is training experts in ‘infodemiology’- a new field of expertise concerned with helping people to understand this epidemic of misinformation – the ‘infodemic’.  In this way they are equipping people with real skills that help them to recognise false information.  This can also help health authorities to follow rumours and to respond when necessary. “I think one of the positive legacies of the covid-19 pandemic will be this global effort to address vaccine myths and my hope is that it is sustained long after the pandemic is history”, says Mr Finnegan. GPs and community pharmacists are particularly well-placed to address some of the questions that people have about covid-19 vaccines. They see older people and those with comorbidities and are therefore able to identify people who fall into high-risk groups and who would be first in line for covid-19 vaccine. GPs and pharmacists as frontline health workers themselves, are also top of the queue so it’s really important that GPs or pharmacists should be vaccinated at the earliest opportunity and, crucially, that they let their patients know. The first question a patient will have is, “Did you do it? Would you have it?”.  “If the answer is “Yes, I had it” or “Yes my parents have had it” – this is deeply reassuring, coming from a trusted source such as your own health care provider”, says Mr Finnegan.

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