We’ve pushed against vaccine hesitancy, encouraged increased uptake of dose after dose, booster after dose. Booster after booster. What next? Although general acceptance of Covid-19 vaccinations has been positive, vaccine hesitancy towards these and other routine vaccinations continues, with the WHO declaring that the number of children receiving three doses of their DTP3 vaccines decreased 5% between 2019 and 2021. Experts are describing this widespread reluctance as “vaccine fatigue”, implying that exposure to information about and promotion of vaccines has overwhelmed the public as they become more conscious of the number of vaccines that are recommended for them.
In 2021 the Mayor of London stated his intention to address this so-called “vaccine fatigue” through collaboration with the NHS, PHE, and local governments to “engage with communities” in schemes such as the “Community Champions” and “Youth Community Champions”. He emphasised the importance of enabling people to discuss vaccines and “wider health concerns”. However, some might argue that this repeated insistence on vaccination and increased investment in information sharing is the root of the problem; before the pandemic people gave a lot less thought to the numerous vaccine expectations of them, whereas scrutiny of the development process and encouragement to participate in vaccination schemes by policymakers might have undermined this complacency.
A 2022 study, Mind the “Vaccine Fatigue”, found that “effective and empathetic vaccine communications” are promising in “eliminating preventable vaccine fatigue across sectors in society”. As we explored in our article on vaccine hesitancy, communication is, as always, key. What does “empathetic” communication look like, then, and how can we achieve it? Solutions might include more humanisation of the vaccine development process; for example, patients may feel more inclined to accept a vaccine if they know a little about the people who designed and produced it and could be confident in their motives. At a time when conspiracy theories about political agendas are complicating vaccine uptake, this might be a key aspect of future communication.
“Empathetic” communication might also look a little more like listening than talking, with the opportunities for communities to share fears and concerns in the presence of someone who can assuage them without dismissing them; too often we are expected to accept scientific fact without understanding the processes behind it, creating a harmful divide between those who know and those who don’t, and aren’t able to then learn. Whatever communication looks like going forward, it is certain that a kind of vaccine invigoration will be essential to protecting the public from health threats.