This article is part of “Health Care 2024,” a survey-driven series of online debates in which POLITICO will explore how the European Union can best tackle health policy. Read the previous installments.
In this installment of Health Care 2024 — a series of symposiums asking leading experts to weigh in on the health care priorities for the next European Commission — POLITICO asks: What can be done to counter vaccine skepticism and convince Europeans that vaccines are safe and beneficial?
Tackle populism at its roots
Jonathan Kennedy is lecturer in global health at Queen Mary University of London.
The science is clear: The benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. Sadly, however, scientific evidence has little or nothing to do with concerns about vaccine safety.
Increasing vaccine hesitancy is one manifestation of a broad surge in anti-establishment anger and suspicion toward elites and experts of all kinds, including doctors and public health authorities. Indeed, the two are closely correlated. Western European countries with the highest levels of support for populist parties, like Greece, Italy and France, have the lowest levels of vaccine confidence. Support for vaccines is strongest in countries like Portugal, where populists are weak.
To effectively address vaccine hesitancy, we must address its root causes. The populist surge is in large part a consequence of the breakdown of the post-Second World War social contract. A significant chunk of the population in liberal democracies feels politically disenfranchised and economically marginalized. Reversing this trend will require the construction of fairer and more inclusive societies — in other words, a new social contract for the 21st century.
Since such a fundamental reform is unlikely to happen in the near future, perhaps the only way that skeptics will be convinced of the importance of vaccines is when they are jolted out of their complacency by the inevitable increase in deadly and devastating preventable diseases.
Promote the benefits of vaccines
European Commissioner for Health Vytenis Andriukaitis is a cardiologist and former health minister of Lithuania.
As a medical doctor, I find it unacceptable that in the EU children die from diseases when effective and cost-efficient vaccines are available. This resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases has given our public health community a devastating, yet necessary, wake-up call.
At the European Commission, we have been seeking solutions to increase confidence in vaccines. A recent EU-wide survey showed citizens trust the advice of health care professionals, and so in response, we have set up a Coalition for Vaccination to support and empower frontline workers in maintaining this trust. Equally, the upcoming Vaccines Information Portal will provide transparent, objective advice about vaccines, and help convince Europeans that getting immunized is safe and effective.
In September we are organizing a Global Vaccination Summit. The objective is to provide a highly visible political endorsement of vaccines and to endorse and promote the benefits of vaccination as an incredibly successful public health measure, one that saves millions of lives every year. I want to make sure that I did everything in my power to make sure that the #VaccinesWork message is heard.
Engage skeptics in conversation
Lois Privor-Dumm is director of policy, advocacy and communications at the International Vaccine Access Center, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, United States.
To tackle vaccine skepticism, we must begin by recognizing that doubts about vaccines are most often rooted in good intentions. We need to be trained to listen before responding and not be judgmental when someones perceptions dont align with our own.
Individuals have different reasons for skepticism and every skeptic does not behave the same way. Understanding the nature of the various concerns and places where they exist is an important first step. This can be done through surveys or by keeping a look out for concerns, delays or refusals of vaccinations. Big data and conversation trends in digital media are another good source of information. Once weve identified our interlocutors, social scientists can help us better understand the underlying concerns and develop strategies to communicate in ways that are compelling to diverse communities.
Respectful listening can go a long way. This is time consuming and, for some, difficult — but its also essential. A lecture can sometimes cause its recipients to dig in deeper. A real conversation can uncover innovative answers within communities and point to solutions that take into account the underlying concerns of vaccine skeptics.
Teach people to identify fake news
David Robert Grimes is a cancer researcher, physicist and science writer.
We tend to think of the anti-vaccine movement as a relatively recent phenomenon, but opposition to immunization is ideologically driven and has been a problem since the time of Edward Jenner, the British physician who pioneered the first vaccine in the 18th century. The modern incarnation is more pronounced and insidious, and the ability of anti-vaccine campaigners to dominate social media has been a major facRead More – Source