Vaccine hesitancy is normal - Education and time may help roll up the sleeves of vaccine skeptics
“Have you been vaccinated? Do you plan on receiving the vaccine?” It is safe to assume that many of us have been asked if we plan on receiving the COVID-19 vaccine when offered. This question divided people into 3 groups: compliers who are willing and certain they want to receive the vaccine, undecided or skeptics who are not sure, and those who refuse to be vaccinated. Since Pfizer (an American pharmaceutical corporation) has announced the development of a promising vaccine for COVID-19, false claims and misinformation have been spreading on the internet faster than the virus itself. Those claims have made people uncertain of whether this vaccine is safe, leading many to have doubts even if they believe in the benefits of vaccination. In order to overcome this crisis, we must bring vaccine doubters on board to stop the spread of the virus and bring this pandemic to an end. However, it is important to distinguish between vaccine doubters and anti-vaccine groups, where although they may seem similar, they certainly are not. This blog will shed some light on why vaccine hesitancy is normal and what strategies can be implemented to address this issue and improve vaccination rates.
What is vaccine hesitancy and why is it normal?
Vaccine hesitancy refers to the delay in making a decision on whether to accept or refuse being vaccinated. This uncertainty stems from a range of concerns individuals may have. Some of which are fear of needles, concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, or suspicions about pharmaceutical industries and government bodies. Those concerns can also be experienced by health care workers themselves who might fear needles, have severe allergies or health conditions that may cause them to be hesitant. Vaccine hesitancy is not a new concept, where it has been seen as early as the 1800s when the smallpox vaccine was first rolled out. The concept of injecting humans with a dead or weakened version of the microbe was unsettling for many, which also led to the rise of extreme anti-vaccine groups.
However, while vaccine hesitancy is normal and could occur with any vaccine, it is especially true when faced with a novel vaccine. I like to explain this using the adoption curve model presented below, which typically explains the adoption of new technology. This model can also explain why some people adopt a new innovation/product/idea before others. COVID-19 vaccine is a novel vaccine and a new “product” that has been rolled out to protect us against the virus. With any innovation, some people will adopt the idea before others and those are referred to as innovators or enthusiasts. In this case, this group of people strongly believe in vaccines and their safety profile with absolutely no concerns. This group is usually smaller in number and makes up around 2.5% of the population. Next, we start seeing a steady rise in the number of people who adopt this innovation including conservatives who were hesitant at first. This is because hesitant individuals commonly use the wait and see approach before making a decision.
So why is it important to bring vaccine-skeptics on board and what strategies can be implemented to achieve that?
To date, vaccination is undoubtedly one of the most successful and cost-effective interventions to protect our human race from infectious diseases. Vaccination is the main reason why we stopped seeing people paralyzed from polio or having painful raised bumps from smallpox. With vaccination, we were able to eradicate many infectious diseases. Today more than ever, our healthcare system needs to address the misconceptions and conspiracies surrounding vaccines to build public confidence in vaccines. To improve vaccination coverage and overcome this crisis, it is important to distinguish between vaccine-hesitant individuals and anti-vaxxers. Hesitant individuals are usually more active in searching for information before making a decision and may end up choosing to get vaccinated. On the other hand, anti-vaxxers have rigid beliefs and follow claims that lack scientific basis with fixed anti-vaccine ideologies. Although this group poses a threat to our global health system, we must focus our energy on targeting vaccine-hesitant individuals and address their uncertainties to improve vaccination rates.
Here are few strategies that can be implemented by government bodies, businesses and public institutions to increase the public confidence in vaccines and dispel the conspiracies and misconceptions related to vaccinations:
Educate people about the credible sources they should seek information from such as the World Health Organization, Health Canada, Public Health Units, and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). These sources are deemed credible because they share information that has true scientific evidence researched, written and approved by experts. On the other hand, WhatsApp and other social media platforms allow any user to share information regarding the vaccine with no regulation which may be false and has no scientific proof.
Whenever in doubt, speak to your doctor or pharmacist. As previously mentioned, it is normal to have questions and be hesitant. Therefore, we encourage people to call their physician or pharmacist and address the concerns they may have about taking the vaccine. For example, today we had a patient who decided not to take the vaccine because she’s on more than 10 medications and she feared that one of her medications may interact with the vaccine. Shortly after speaking to one of our pharmacists, she was assured that none of her medications will interact with the vaccine and has decided to get vaccinated when given the opportunity.
Since not everyone has a physician or a pharmacist to speak to, connecting people to healthcare professionals will play a critical role in improving vaccination rates. Businesses, universities, nursing homes and religious institutions are encouraged to hold vaccination clinics to educate people about vaccinations and offer it for those who have not been vaccinated. This strategy will not only connect people to healthcare professionals but also serve as an opportunity for those who are busy and can't find the time to visit a clinic to receive the vaccine.
For us to overcome this crisis, we all need to do our due diligence to dispel the misconceptions surrounding the novel vaccine and encourage people to get vaccinated. Whenever possible, direct people to the right sources and encourage those who are hesitant to seek information and express their concerns to professional health care workers rather than the public. Aside from vaccination, staying home is still one of the most important measures you can take to help flatten the curve and minimize the spread of the virus. Before I end this blog, I want to leave you with a great infographic prepared by pharmacist and professor Dr. Kelly Grindrod to debunk the most common myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.
As always, we are one call away. Please feel free to contact us with your questions, we would love to chat and address your concerns.In the meantime,
Stay Healthy, Stay Home.
BSc, MMASc, PharmD ‘23