A key factor in the elevation of public health standards, apart from the discovery and development of new, improved, and reliable drugs, is the acceptance of novel medicated formulations among community members. Fear has always been associated with the use of the latest remedies mainly due to the concerns of the side effects coming with the dose which may yet have remained unidentified by the scientists. Such behaviors of drug use avoidance and refusal intended to address the present or imminent health problems have also been associated with the utilization of vaccines and thus have been termed as ‘vaccine hesitancy’.
Vaccine hesitancy has been defined by researchers as “the delayed acceptability, or an altogether refusal to take the vaccine despite having access to the vaccination services.”
An image symbolizing vaccine hesitancy
Strategies for combating vaccine hesitancy
Parents, healthcare workers (HCWs), and adults, all need to be taken in confidence when the safety of their child or themselves followed by vaccination is in question. The following 5 approaches can be taken into consideration while dealing with the issue of vaccine hesitancy.
1. Dialogue-based interventions
The first and foremost step in overcoming vaccine hesitancy in a population is the initiation of awareness campaigns. Primarily, the approach must directly target the unvaccinated or under-vaccinated population strata. People are reached out to by trained personnel and informed about the vaccine and its benefits. The possible risks associated with taking a particular vaccine must be addressed logically.
When it comes to communication approaches, presumptive as well as participatory strategies can be employed. In the case of presumptive communication, it is perceived that the individual is ready to get vaccinated so the people are addressed by the phrases “We’re going to be…”. However, when it comes to the participatory approach, people are approached as if they want to get vaccinated and what views they perceive in mind about it. The communication can be initiated by the phrases such as “Do/Did you want to…”.Research has suggested the superiority of the presumptive approach over the participatory one. Moreover, reminder or recall-based interventions along with regular follow-ups can also alleviate the fears and concerns in the people’s minds rendering them to surrender against their firm refusal.
2. Awareness-raising strategies
Another method employed to reduce the fear of vaccination is raising awareness about the product via campaigns, seminars, and advertisements. Public service messages are recorded in which celebrities can be seen promoting a concept. Recently, such advertisements were run during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to visualize the preventive measures with the aim to make them easy for people to understand and follow. Similarly, a president or prime minister can take a vaccine on live television to ensure its safety. Furthermore, print media, apart from electronic media, is utilized as a route for delivering awareness to the people. A particular focus must be given to the language of communication i.e. information has the highest reach when communicated in a country’s national as well as regional languages.
A poster explaining the importance of the use of tissue paper while coughing
3. Improvement in convenience and access to vaccination services
The inaccessibility to the vaccination centers can be a reason for the avoidance of taking the dose. To resolve this issue, free transport facilities can be provided to the people. Pick and drop from homes to the vaccination centers and vice versa can significantly increase the number of vaccinated individuals. Moreover, a home-based vaccination facility can also be provided where the trained personnel visit people in their homes and give them the vaccine. The vaccination centers can be operated for 24 hours to further elevate people’s convenience. Multiple vaccination centers in a city can also further divide the crowd rendering the process even simpler.
4. Mandatory vaccination approaches/sanctions on the unvaccinated population
Taking a vaccine can be made mandatory for a population. Sometimes, governments issue vaccination certificates to people once the full vaccination course has been completed. These certificates can be made compulsory to visit one’s workplace or university. A harder approach in this category can be the sanctioning of unvaccinated people. Such individuals can be fined heavily to urge them towards vaccination. However, more linear approaches such as incentive-based interventions can also be considered. This particularly works for less privileged segments of a population.
A sign informing employees about the strict policy of vaccination at a workplace
5. Engagement of religious influences
The engagement of religious authority in the matter of vaccination has been proven to be one of the best strategies for combating vaccine hesitancy. A Molvi, a Priest, or a Rabbi can communicate to its community during religious sermons to encourage them towards taking the vaccine. Taking a step forward, a video message by religious figures can be telecasted on national television, youtube, or other social media platforms to enhance the reach. An example of the benefits of such an approach has been reported by a study that made an observation on the link between the involvement of religious personalities and the adaptation of contraceptive methods in an Islamic society. Results showed a higher correlation between both factors i.e. by listening to a religious figure encouraging a practice, people tend to listen, grasp, and implement the practice sooner. Similar has been observed in the case of polio vaccine campaigns where an appeal to get one’s children vaccinated made by a religious figure attracted masses towards the vaccination centers.
Vaccine hesitancy is a major issue in many cultures where people are reluctant to take a vaccine due to the fear of possible side effects or merely due to considering it unnecessary. Fortunately, with the implementation of multiple strategies, the problem of vaccine hesitancy can be addressed. Increasing awareness via multiple means, involving religious figures, and providing easy access to vaccination centers are some of the approaches which can be adopted to achieve the purpose thus creating flexibility in the hindrance against vaccination.