Public health: Overcoming COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy
June 2, 2022
Correcting misperceptions regarding doctors’ views about COVID-19 vaccines has been shown to improve vaccination rates in the Czech Republic, according to a Nature paper. These findings highlight the role of perceived expert views in vaccine hesitancy and also how this can be overcome by providing explicit and accurate information about the opinions of trusted experts.
Identifying sources of vaccine hesitancy is one of the central challenges in fighting disease outbreaks, including the COVID-19 pandemic. As many people are still hesitant to get a vaccine, developing scalable approaches to help to overcome vaccination hesitancy — especially COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy — is a global policy priority. Previous research has shown that media reports may create an inaccurate impression that vaccine controversy is prevalent among doctors, even when a broad consensus exists. Medical doctors are often seen as trustworthy, so broadcasting doctors’ real views about COVID-19 vaccines may encourage people to get vaccinated.
To understand whether this approach could work, one must first understand whether the general public has an accurate impression of doctors’ views. Therefore, Vojtěch Bartoš and colleagues surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,101 participants as well as 9,650 doctors from the Czech Republic. They found that over 90% of the general population underestimated the trust and vaccination intentions of doctors, with most people expecting that only 50% of doctors trust the vaccine and intend to get vaccinated. However, 90% of the doctors intended to get vaccinated and 95% planned to recommend vaccination to their patients. These true views of doctors were then relayed back to a random selection of half of the participants. The behaviour of all participants was then monitored over the next eight months, starting in March 2021, shortly after the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Participants who were told about doctors’ true views were four percentage points more likely to get vaccinated as compared to those wh o did not receive such information and this effect remained relatively stable. These results show that the intervention recalibrates participants’ beliefs, leading to a lasting and stable increase in vaccine demand.
As the population of the Czech Republic had observed levels of vaccine hesitancy similar to those of many other countries, the authors suggest that their findings may extend to other countries. Professional medical associations, with their capacity to collect data on individual views of doctors on a large scale, could help to create a cheap, scalable intervention that corrects misperceptions and has lasting impacts on behaviour in other populations, the authors argue.
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