Anti-vaccine movements are as old as vaccines and it is, of course, of public interest to combat their propaganda. However, erroneous communication on vaccines can encourage this propaganda. For example, during the H1N1 influenza epidemic, in 2009, the errors in the organization of mass immunization and in the ministry of Health communication in France resulted in a raise of anti-vaccine rumors and a durable decrease of annual influenza vaccination rates. Another example is the Global Poliomyelitis Eradication Initiative (GPEI) whose initial goal of polio eradication in 2000 was made impossible by vaccine hesitancy. It took years for the GPEI to change its communication strategy and to overcome the vaccine opposition in various countries.
I am afraid that today’s over statements on COVID-19 vaccines would also contribute to the raise of false rumors when a vaccine is finally available. By presenting a vaccine as the magic bullet, the end of the constraints on people imposed by the pandemic, some head of states (Donald Trump, of course, but also Emmanuel Macron in France) raise big expectations that might lead to disappointment and rumors on why do the governments promote vaccination (industry financial interest?). First, nobody knows the level of protection a vaccine will insure. Second, the vaccines will first be available for health care workers and at-risk people. This means that it is likely that barrier measures will still be recommended, and even lockdown decisions might still be necessary, when the first vaccines are distributed. Speaking the truth today would be to say that vaccines will be one more tool to control the pandemic, but won’t probably be sufficient to end all the current efforts.
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HIFA profile: Bernard Seytre is a Consultant at BNSCommunication in France. Professional interests: Health communication and education. Email address: seytre AT bnscom.fr