Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study during a measles outbreak last year and concluded that “a relatively high number of individuals are at least somewhat misinformed about vaccines,” often expressing mistaken beliefs about the treatments’ association with autism and toxins. The researchers also found a correlation between belief in vaccine misinformation and low trust in medical authorities, as well as exposure to material about vaccines on social media.
Steve Danehy, a Pfizer spokesman, said in an email that “public education around the need for vaccination, as well as the rigorous process by which the vaccines have been developed, is critical.”
Public messaging campaigns can be instrumental in persuading people to act in a health crisis. Travel advisories kept many pregnant tourists and business travelers away from areas struggling to contain the Zika epidemic in 2016, for instance.
The marketing plan for a coronavirus vaccine must persuade people that the treatment is safe and effective, while also providing practical instructions on where people can get vaccinated and how they can schedule appointments, said Dolores Albarracin, a psychology, business and medicine professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“If you do not introduce information about how to achieve vaccination, simply a favorable attitude will not take people to the vaccination site,” she said. “Without an understanding of the psychological and socio-structural processes leading to vaccination, it’s going to be difficult to get the 47 percent of people who don’t intend to vaccinate to do it.”
Research by the Covid Collaborative suggests that fewer than 20 percent of Black Americans believe that a vaccine will be safe or effective. Many respondents stated that they had little faith in the government’s ability to look after their interests or cited distrust stemming from past ethics violations, such as the infamous Tuskegee study, which tracked Black men infected with syphilis but did not treat them.
“In these highly vulnerable communities that are disproportionately affected by Covid, it’s a big, big trust-building exercise from the ground up,” said John Bridgeland, one of the founders and the chief executive of the Covid Collaborative. “They trust their physicians, their pharmacists, and so we have to go very local in having trusted messengers.”