Perspective: Convincing a skeptical public to accept COVID-19 vaccines

Recent polling suggests that many Americans are undecided about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, but the polls also offers insights about how to encourage greater acceptance of vaccines, according to experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a March 3, 2021, Perspective article in the New England Journal of Medicine, three experts from the Department of Health Policy and ManagementGillian SteelFisher, senior research scientist; Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus; and Hanna Caporello, program manager—suggested ways to motivate the public to get vaccinated, based on public opinion data from 39 nationally representative polls conducted between August 2020 and February 2021.

The polls make clear that safety is a key consideration in people’s decisions regarding vaccination and that doctors or other health professionals are the most trusted source of information about vaccine safety, according to the authors. They therefore suggested that clinicians be at the forefront of education and outreach efforts to ease people’s safety concerns. They also recommended that Black physicians play a key role in outreach, given that polling shows that Black adults are less confident about the vaccines than white adults.

The polls also suggest that people are very concerned about “getting back to normal,” but the authors noted that such perceptions may conflict with expert warnings about maintaining precautions even after being vaccinated. They suggested balancing such warnings with positive messages about how vaccination can facilitate a return to activities such as seeing friends and family.

Read the NEJM article: An Uncertain Public — Encouraging Acceptance of Covid-19 Vaccines