The UK is leading the way in vaccine development and deployment. The success of this vaccination programme depends on acquiring herd immunity. Vaccination centres have been successfully set up. They have vaccinated over 94% of all older people and those in high clinically vulnerable groups with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Despite the overwhelming body of literature indicating the safety and benefits, small proportions of the UK population still report resistance or being unsure about becoming vaccinated. The recent coverage of possible links of the vaccine with thromboses has damaged confidence. This has even led to the temporary suspension of the Oxford AZ vaccine in a number of European countries, potentially leading to reduced trust. The branding of people who are hesitant about vaccination as “anti-vaxxers” stifles debate and is unhelpful. Their genuinely held concerns and worries should be openly discussed.
In our recent article in the BMJ, there we call for a more nuanced public messaging approach, one rooted in equality, respect for diversity and tailored to those in the lower risk groups and the healthy population. In this article, we suggest that individual autonomy should be upheld, and the way forward is to try to win the hearts and minds to facilitate their decision-making. Until now, little attention has been paid to genuinely listen to individual concerns. It’s important so we can enhance vaccine confidence and lessen fears.
So where should you go for unbiased sources of information? The Quran states:
“We sent revelations to men before you, ask those who have received the message if you don’t know.” – The Majestic Quran (16:43)
As we turn attention to vaccinating lower-risk groups the rest of the population, it is important to acknowledge that we may need a change in strategy to optimise vaccine uptake, especially for groups who may feel sceptical about vaccination or who feel unsupported. Policymakers, health professionals and community leaders would benefit from listening and understanding the differing perspectives on vaccination. We need to ensure people feel that their individual autonomy is maintained and they are aware of the available support to facilitate decision-making.
Frontline health professionals should reflect and consider whether they are creating opportunities for an open and honest dialogue with their patients so genuine concerns can be expressed and an informed decision reached. Your local pharmacist is accessible and will provide you with unbiased sources of information. The vaccination programme stops the virus circulating more widely in vulnerable populations; it’s time for a more public nuanced debate to improve confidence and uptake.