Logistics are not the only challenge for successfully administering COVID-19 vaccines. Information also needs to be given to the public in a clear and balanced manner.
In a new editorial, David Phizackerley, the deputy editor of the journal Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, argues that clear and balanced information on the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccines is important for ensuring their broad uptake.
The editorial offers a range of suggestions as to how this information should be communicated.
The advent of vaccinations has had a profound effect on public health, reducing “disease, disability, and death from a variety of infectious diseases,” according to an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Since the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 — and the disease it causes, COVID-19 — scientists have been clear that the development and distribution of an effective and safe vaccine has been one of the main objectives of research in the pushback against the pandemic.
Multiple vaccines have now produced excellent clinical trial results in terms of their effectiveness, and the rapid rollout of these vaccines to vulnerable populations across the world has begun.
However, as Dr. Walter A. Orenstein, a professor of medicine, epidemiology, global health, and pediatrics at Emory University, and Dr. Rafi Ahmed, a professor in Emory University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, note in their article, “It is often said that vaccines save lives, but this is not strictly true; it is vaccination that saves lives.”
While the logistical challenges of distributing the vaccines are significant, it is equally important to convince enough of the population to be vaccinated — not only for the protection of particular vulnerable people but also for the achievement of herd immunity.
Phizackerley highlights a study from University College London, in the United Kingdom, which suggests that 14% of people were either moderately or very unlikely to get themselves vaccinated.
Given that it is not yet clear what the rate of uptake will need to be for herd immunity to be reached, it is important to make sure that public trust in COVID-19 vaccinations is as high as possible.
As Phizackerley points out, “balanced information on vaccination risks and benefits by healthcare professionals has been shown to have an impact on uptake.”
Phizackerley makes a series of suggestions as to how this should happen.
For Phizackerley, healthcare professionals need to have up-to-date information about the vaccines, including both what is currently known and what is yet to be discovered about their benefits and potential harms.
Information should offer insight into how significant these risks and benefits are within the context of the known risks from COVID-19. This means making clear what harms were reported during clinical trials and what happened to those who had adverse reactions.
Wherever possible, information should also cover how the vaccines work, including whether they affect asymptomatic transmission or how long a person may have the disease and whether vaccination will impact a person’s chances of dying from the disease or the need for social distancing measures.
For Phizackerley, this information should be tailored to both different age groups and people with different vulnerabilities to the disease.
If healthcare professionals, politicians, scientists, and policymakers are able to respond quickly and accurately to questions about the vaccines, it will help reduce uncertainty and increase trust in the vaccination drive.
As Phizackerley concludes, “Such information will be essential to support national vaccination programs and to help counter rumors, fake news, unsubstantiated scare stories, and overinflated claims of success.”