How to win trust over flu

As countries begin their campaigns for mass vaccination against the pandemic H1N1 flu, a survey released last week by the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts found that only four out of ten adults have definitely given themselves Decided to vaccinate the U.S., and only half plan to get the shot for my kids (http://go.nature.com/wiB8V3).

Harvard’s results parallel other surveys, both inside and outside the United States, all of which show that many people are still skeptical about vaccines. Public-health officials keen to contain the spread of the pandemic need to realize that their best hope for dealing with such public reluctance is to patiently address the concerns that underlie it.

Sometimes, it’s true, those concerns go beyond reasoning with any appeal. They stem out of a visceral mistrust of authority in general – and that of government, regulatory agencies, medical researchers, and multinational pharmaceutical companies in particular.

A sophisticated anti-vaccine movement has emerged that follows on this vigil, and helps feed the conspiracy theories about the H1N1 vaccine that are circulating on the Internet and in viral e-mails.

But more often, researchers studying the topic say people are assessing vaccination through a purely rational cost-benefit analysis. There is a widespread public belief, for example, that vaccine safety trials have been hurried – a Harvard study found that potential side effects were the main concern of respondents – and that the H1N1 flu is mild.

As a result, many people feel that there is no urgent need for vaccination, preferring to hold off until they see how the first phases of the vaccination program go. In fact, a Harvard survey even found that some 60% of people who don’t intend to get a shot are open to changing their mind if people in their community become seriously ill or die. .

Such discussions reflect a completely legitimate decision-making process, says Peter Sandman, a risk-communication consultant in Princeton, New Jersey. And governments, he advises, should structure their public-education campaigns in a way that respects people’s decisions and their wait-and-see attitudes.

Research into risk communication strongly shows that when hyper-curious officials exert pressure on members of the public who are already skeptical and bisexual, while openly dismissing public concerns, they only perpetuate resistance.

Instead, executives should focus on providing people with the information they need to make good choices for themselves. This should include a reminder that coincidences happen: In any mass-vaccination campaign, at least some people will fall ill shortly after getting their shots that have nothing to do with the vaccine – a possibility that last week’s The death was apparently uncovered by a 14-year-old British girl hours after receiving the vaccine against the human papilloma virus.

Regulatory authorities need to better interpret the comprehensive safety tests that vaccines undergo as well as instill confidence by being completely transparent in reporting and investigating any suspicious incidents involving vaccination.

The mass education campaign should also correct the misconception that H1N1 flu is mild. It is lighter in those who hold it. But for those individuals – mainly young adults – who will develop the severe form, H1N1 is life-threatening. In addition, because the virus is new and lacks immunity, many more people will get it than with the seasonal flu, and the number of serious illness and deaths will be accordingly much higher.

Finally, people should be reminded that vaccination is not just about protecting oneself; It’s also about not spreading the flu to others, which, crucially, eases the pressure on highly spread hospitals. Campaigns should give more prominence to philanthropic appeals than ever before; Research shows that they can be surprisingly effective.

In general, for officials and researchers at all levels, pandemic vaccine skeptics serve as a timely reminder of the need for science-based advice and work to gain greater public confidence in its providers needed.

Leave a Comment