Addressing vaccine hesitancy through active listen and sharing scientific knowledge

By Sumi Dey

Vaccine hesitancy or anti-vaccination is defined as unwillingness or denial to be vaccinated despite the accessibility of vaccination services. It is recognized as one of the most crucial global health threats in the COVID era and beyond. There are multiple factors associated with vaccine hesitancy, such as mistrust of the vaccines or lack of assurance from the healthcare provider; an individual may or may not understand the value of vaccines. On the other hand, an individual may understand the importance of vaccines; however, he/she may not have access to vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy is the key contributing factor for the reemergence of the new infectious diseases outbreak and increased mortality rate from vaccines preventable diseases.

My Albert Schweitzer Fellowship project is to promote vaccine awareness, education, and positive behavior change among the African American population on Detroit’s eastside. The underserved communities have limited access to COVID-19 vaccines and testing facilities which will be difficult to reach for the community to develop herd immunity. It is very important at this point that the health care team should address the barriers to vaccine hesitancy and educate the underserved communities regarding vaccine safety and efficacy. However, understanding safety and efficacy are important, but that’s not the only reason some of the populations are refusing vaccines. It’s their mindset and for any reason, they will not take the vaccines.

I am working at the Popoff Family Health Center. We are interviewing every unvaccinated patient and try to understand their barriers, educating them on the importance of vaccines and how will they prevent infection from spreading. At the same time, we are listening to their concerns carefully and addressing them nonjudgmentally. Multiple recent research studies have estimated overall vaccination rates such as pneumococcal, Hepatitis A, Mumps, Measles, Rubella (MMR) declined due to pandemics, and it’s prime time to catch up on missed vaccination. Otherwise, we may have to expect another pandemic soon. In this clinical setting, we are checking each patient’s missed vaccination rate using Michigan Care Improvement Registry data, and during the second or last dose of the COVID vaccine we are discussing the importance of the missed vaccines and scheduling them for the missed vaccines.

Vaccine hesitancy is an ongoing phenomenon, and it will not resolve in a day or month. Health care teams need to provide evidence-based education and awareness in every visit and in that way, eventually, patients will develop trust and may change their mindset. Health care workers must be always prepared for unusual questions and address them nonjudgmentally as we must” let them know what we know”.

The World Health Organization has established August 19 as Humanitarian Day. Albert Schweitzer Fellows at Authority Health are commemorating the occasion by publishing blogs on their fellowship projects.