How to deal with COVID19 vaccine hesitancy

An umbrella in combating false information

COVID 19 vaccine hesitancy is real. It hurts. With Omicron, vaccine hesitancy has become a major roadblock. The problem has gone viral very much like the COVID19 spread.

What is COVID 19 vaccine hesitancy?

Vaccine hesitancy refers to situations when someone either refuses or delay getting the CVODI19 vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy is not new; it has been there for all vaccines. However, we are discussing this again with this COVID19 pandemic.

We have many resources to learn more about it. The latest addition is the Coursera course. It is free. This post dives into this excellent resource.

About the course

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health brings this course to us. The School have named the course COVID Vaccine Ambassador Training: How to talk to parents”. Although it is for parents, its contents are suitable for all of us.

I am summarising here the key points of two modules: Module 1 and 4. It is because my intention here is to focus on message framing. Yet, I would suggest all, particularly health care workers, enrol and follow the course. It takes less than two hours. Furthermore, we can get a certificate after completing the graded assignments.

Course contents

It contains five modules;

  • Module 1:
    • Understanding vaccine hesitancy
    • Its common reasons
    • How to communicate with vaccine – hesitant people
  • Module 2:
    • Our immune system and the COVID19 virus
  • Module 3:
    • How scientisits develop vaccines
  • Module 4:
    • How to spot and respond to false information
  • Module 5:
    • Vaccinating children 5-11 years

This post summarises key points of modules 1 and 4.

Module 1: About vaccine hesitancy

The Course views vaccine hesitancy along a continuum.

1.1. Vaccine hesitancy along a continuum

We meet people who refuse to take the vaccine. Also, we can find some who refuse to take it but are unsure about their reasons for the decision. Furthermore, we can find some who are not sure either to take or refuse. Still more, there are others who accept but are unsure. I placed these groups of people on a continuum as follows;

COVID 19 vaccine hesitancy along a continuum

The good thing is that the majority fall in somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

How this tool becomes useful?

We can use the knowledge to re-frame our day-to-day conversations about vaccine hesitancy.

1.2. Reasons for vaccine hesitancy

Next, there are three reasons for vaccine hesitancy: Three Cs. Those are;

  1. Complacency
  2. Confidence
  3. Convenience

Complacency

Vaccine complacency refers to a situation when,

  • We perceive a very low risk of either getting the COVID19 virus or getting ill.
  • We prioritise other life events and health issues over getting the vaccine.

Confidence

Some vaccine-hesitant people lack trust in,

  • The vaccine itself,
  • Health system,
  • Health or/and political authorities.

Convenience

Also, some vaccine-hesitant people seek convenience. It could come in many forms such as;

  • Non – availability of the vaccine
  • Affordability to go to a place where it is available
  • Difficulty in finding time to go to a clinic (the accessibility issue)

1.3. How to respond to vaccine hesitancy

The course suggests using three strategies when we converse with a vaccine-hesitant person.

1.3.1. Listen to the person’s concerns without judging

This is not easy as it sounds. Do not let them down without listening to their concerns; it won’t help. And, telling them they are wrong and silly will make our effort much harder because no one wants to hear that.


Listen even if you disagree; do not argue; do not judge.

From the Coursera course

And, when we listen, show we are listening through our body language; do not be dismissive.

If you do not know an answer, do not make up an answer; say that you do not know but refer to a credible source. Find out links to credible sources in the place where you live.

Let them know your kids, relatives, and yourself already got the vaccine. This is the social norms approach; we influence them indirectly to get the vaccine. Even health authorities apply the social norms theory at media conferences.

1.3.2. Follow these three communication techniques

This resource gives excellent practical scenarios under effective communication strategies.

Those are;

  1. Presumptive communication
    • Frame your conversation to say that vaccination is the norm today. (We apply here the social norms theory. You can read more about it through this link.)
  2. Motivational interviewing
    • Ask open-ended questions
    • Use affirmative language
    • Adhere to reflective listening
  3. Tailoring
    • Promote vaccination as the norm – give evidence that you know.
    • Zero-in to specific concerns without discussing in general
    • Tailor your responses to those specific concerns

1.3.3. How to build empathy and trust in conversations

The Course suggests three practices to build empathy and trust in your conversations;

  1. Give your full attention to the person.
  2. Show that you share their concerns and that they are not alone. Do not dismiss their concerns.
  3. Support and encourage the speaker.

Module 4: Dealing with false information

This module begins with some false information basics.

4.1. False information basics

False information becomes very sticky in our minds. It is difficult to erase even after correcting it.

False information stays sticky even after correcting it.

The module identifies three types of false information;

  1. Mis-information
  2. Disinformation
  3. Fake news
1. Misinformation

Misinformation refers to the false or misleading information that we share unintentionally. In this scenario, we do not know whether the information we share is either false or misleading.

2. Disinformation

In disinformation, someone shares false information knowing what they are doing. They do this with a personal, political, or economic agenda in mind.

One common example is promoting miracle drugs to “boost” your immunity. In disinformation, someone shares false information knowing what they are doing. Disinformation refers to situations when someone shares false information with full knowledge of what they are doing. Some do this with a personal, political, or economic agenda in mind. One such very common example is promoting miracle drugs to “boost” your immunity.

3. Fake news

The perpetrators create false information in fake news. They disguise it coming from legitimate sources, such as newspapers, TV stations etc.

4.2. How to spot false information

False information carries the following features; we need to doubt the information when,

  1. Extreme emotions: Fake news contains words that highlight extreme emotions such as anger, outrage, and fear.
  2. Fake experts: Unqualified (This includes experts from unrelated professions too), fake experts, and organizations.
  3. Conspiracy theories: Stories that highlight conspiracy theories.
How to spot a conspiracy theory

The conspiracy theory-based false narratives exhibit the following features;

  • It highlights a secret plot.
  • It says that a group of people are behind this.
  • It says that they plot to cause harm to the planet.
  • It targets a specific person or a group.
  • It divides people into “good” and “bad”.

4.3. How to deal with fake news

The module suggests following these strategies to deal with fake news;

  • Listen; do not judge; do not argue – it is counter-productive.
  • Pivot the conversation to the real risk of the disease
    • share stories, not just facts;
    • say how many have already got the illness, hospitalized, in the ICU, and died in your area, region, and in the country

4.4. How to combat false information

The module advocates using the following three strategies to combat false information;

  1. Educating how to spot false information
  2. Pre-bunking: Educating about the methods used to spread false information
  3. De-bunking
  4. Report false information
  5. Create your own social media posts

What is pre-bunking?

Pre-bunking refers to raising awareness about the methods used to spread false information. It is because dealing with each false information piece is not practical. Instead, educate about the methods used to spread false information. It provides an “umbrella” protection.

Debunk

Debunking refers to fact-checking. The course recommends four routes to follow in debunking;

  1. Facts: State the true facts clearly, simply, and concretely.
    • Share information from credible sources
    • Create your own information based on credible sources’ info
  2. Warn: Warn about the misinformation myth
    • Warn beforehand that a myth is coming.
  3. Explain: Explain how this myth is misleading people.
  4. Repeat the facts

2. Report false information

We can report false info to either Facebook or Whatsup as well as to other media sources.

3. Create your own social media posts

Other useful resources

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Author: Prasantha De Silva

A specialist in Community Medicine board-certified in Sri Lanka and a research analyst in Canada

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