Healthcare workers to help tackle COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

Healthcare workers to help tackle COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy
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Healthcare workers will help a global taskforce that has been established to combat vaccine hesitancy by tackling misinformation.

The project led by the University of Bristol and involving teams in Canada, Germany, Finland, France, and Portugal, will harness the potential of healthcare professionals to challenge misconceptions about vaccination, reinforce confidence in vaccines, and encourage uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine, including being immunised themselves.

Vaccine hesitancy has been recognised as a serious threat by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Improving vaccine uptake

The £2.7m research project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, will systematically investigate attitudes towards vaccinations among healthcare workers and arguments made by anti-vaccination activists will be analysed and used to develop tools and techniques to challenge and refute such claims via healthcare workers.

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Science at the University of Bristol, who is heading the taskforce, said: “This is vital work, which will play a key role in fighting the deadly virus and other infectious diseases. Vaccine hesitancy is a significant issue across the world, including in the UK, and concerted efforts are needed to understand more about its origins and find effective ways to reduce fear and uncertainty, and build confidence in vaccines which are our best shot out of the pandemic.”

“It is important that healthcare workers are vaccinated and communicate the benefits of vaccinations, especially given their close contact with vulnerable patients and how their attitudes and actions may be followed by others. Ultimately we need them fully on board with the vaccination programme to keep themselves and the wider community safe and protected.”

The guidance will be deployed by the WHO and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICIF) for worldwide benefit.

Professor Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol and Chair of the World Health Organization European Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, said: “Although great strides are being made with COVID-19 vaccination programmes across the world, the spread of misinformation poses a significant threat to this progress. That’s why this is such an important research project, which could hold the key to improving vaccine uptake and reducing health inequalities.

“There is evidence to indicate greater vaccine hesitancy within BAME communities, which is particularly concerning since people from ethnic minorities have been shown to be at significantly greater risk of dying from COVID-19. Encouraging and reassuring health and social care workers to be vaccinated, and in turn enlisting their support to act as advocates to urge others, including patients, to follow will play a crucial part in reducing infection rates and saving lives.”

The research project will bolster other high-profile efforts to boost vaccine uptake, especially among target groups.

Professor Sander van der Linder, from the University of Cambridge, which is part of the taskforce, said: “The spread of misinformation about vaccination is one of the top global health threats. Our Social Decision-Making Lab is delighted to be part of this crucial and cutting-edge project to help develop a ‘psychological vaccine’ to inoculate health workers against influential misinformation.”

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