Debunking the anti-vaxxers: how communications can help

Thought your kid was safe from the measles? Think again. Experts say several diseases that are avoidable are making a comeback, and it's all due to people who refuse to vaccinate their kids.

Decision-making regarding vaccination is far more complex than simply having the correct information, argues Jayme McCormick
Decision-making regarding vaccination is far more complex than simply having the correct information, argues Jayme McCormick

Vaccines don’t just protect you. They can protect everyone – but only if the majority gets vaccinated to help contain the spread of disease. It’s called herd immunity. 

And it’s vital, because diseases haven’t disappeared. 

Most parents today have never seen first-hand the devastating consequences that vaccine-preventable diseases can have on a family or community. 

So, when new clinical research like the recent study on measles confirms that vaccination does indeed provide protection before children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases, why are we paying attention to the sceptics? 

As always happens in matters of public opinion, it’s those who shout the loudest that end up dominating people’s attention. 

But that doesn’t mean everyone’s minds are made up. To increase our vaccination rates, we must appeal to those that are on the fence. 

Trying to overcome vaccine hesitancy solely by solving the knowledge deficit assumes that people will change their mind once given complete, detailed and accurate information. 

But individual decision-making regarding vaccination is far more complex and may involve emotional, cultural, social, spiritual or political aspects as much as cognitive factors. 

So, we need to consider the emotional side as well as the functional to encourage and educate on the power of vaccination.

Do not criticise 

Instead, use emotional, empowering language to highlight a parent's ability to protect their children and their responsibility for choosing to vaccinate.  

Focus on the facts 

Provide clear and easy-to-understand facts on vaccination and encourage individuals to ask their healthcare provider questions. 

Silence the sceptics 

Use information on the risk and consequences of diseases, the risk of not being vaccinated, the safety of vaccines, the effects of vaccines on the immune system, and alternative modes of prevention and how they compare to vaccination in order to address any silent queries and make sure correct information is being shared. 

Create advocates 

Think about who, beyond your primary target audience, might need this information. Vaccine providers have a direct line of communication to those considering vaccination, so factor them into your education programme to create advocates. 

And, consider your communications approach 

Whether you’re trying to reach the entire population through a mass-communication campaign, using a more personalised approach to specifically target the vaccine-hesitant, or looking at incorporating training and educational interventions, a combination of these communications methods has been found to be most effective.

To date, vaccination has greatly reduced the burden of infectious diseases. It will continue to do so – but only if we work together to help solve this pressing healthcare challenge. 

Jayme McCormick is senior vice president, global health, at Cullari Communications Global

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