When people trust their peers more than scientists

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By Nikisha Smith

Research findings on vaccine hesitancy indicate that people are more interested in learning from their peers rather than from scientists, health professionals or government ministers.

This was conveyed by USAID and PAHO representatives during an online webinar with regional media co-hosted by UNICEF and USAID on 23rd June 2022. Reported on the results of the “Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Survey Report 2021”, a joint report on vaccine hesitancy commissioned by USAID and UNICEF and conducted by Caribbean Development Research Services Inc (CADRES).

Addressing misinformation and the link to vaccine hesitancy was one of the topics discussed. PAHO epidemiologist Dr. Franka des Vignes suggested a multi-pronged approach when conveying messages to the public. This would involve employing multiple communication channels, both formal and informal. She said it would be helpful in this current pandemic and in all future ones.

In the study conducted between October and November 2021 in Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, respondents cited the sources governmental and official as one of the main sources of information on the Covid-9 vaccine, followed by social media. Family and friends were also an important source.

The research indicated that social media and personal internet research were the two sources most used by those deciding not to get vaccinated.

USAID’s Greg Pirio, who spoke about Covid-19 misinformation from a social and behavior change perspective, said getting information from neighbors relies on rumours, which may be right. or false, but in a situation like the pandemic, advancing the truth is the primary goal.

“People want to feel respected,” Pirio said. This is something authoritative figures might find difficult to do when addressing the public and he added that showing empathy while providing counter-arguments is the best approach.

USAID representative Alana Shury added that people are more interested in hearing from the average person in their neighborhood rather than high-level staff. Giving peer groups, whether students at school or in the workplace, validated information to share in informal settings would help achieve this goal.

She called the ACTNOW campaign in Trinidad a useful case study. The campaign incorporates advice on healthy eating, exercise and socializing, with conversations about vaccination but using young people as campaign spokespersons.

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