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Innovation to Immunity: Community Vaccine Acceptance

Part III: How informed consent principles can guide vaccine conversations

In our latest series on COVID-19, Lionbridge experts offer perspectives on the ecosystem of clinical development and regulatory approvals during the pandemic and in the future.

With our scale, service excellence and suite of language, communication and technology solutions, Lionbridge is well positioned to help you develop and deliver safe medicines and market them globally.

Community trust under strain

The COVID-19 crisis continues wreaking havoc with lives and livelihoods. The cost is often measured in lives lost, but in fact extends beyond those numbers. The associated public health measures put in place to manage the crisis, such as closing of public spaces and travel-related restrictions, have weighed on everyone. While aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, these measures can also have serious personal, social and economic consequences.

This stress has keenly affected patients across the spectrum of diseases. A PatientView survey of 1,720 patient organizations across 27 countries reveals that the prevailing mood among patients has been that of vulnerability and uncertainty. Patients feel they’ve been sidelined by their healthcare systems and have received diminished support from pharmaceutical companies due to pauses in patient-related activities during the pandemic.

Governments, scientific institutions and the life sciences sector have committed to bringing the crisis to an end by delivering vaccines and national immunization programs against COVID-19 at highly aggressive timelines. And yet, the emergence of first (albeit temporary) regulatory approvals for COVID-19 vaccines and the rollout of vaccination campaigns have been greeted by the public with mixed reactions and have sparked debates about vaccine acceptance.

Understanding attitudes towards vaccine acceptance

The debates around the benefits and risks of vaccines are not a new or unusual phenomenon. While the scientific community is in agreement on the benefits of vaccines and herd immunity, the public at large is not as sure. The percentage of communities that trust vaccines varies depending on geography, culture, health literacy, personal beliefs, past experiences, expectations and trust in healthcare systems.

Effective community and patient engagement is critically important in the effort to maximize the acceptance of immunization programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the need for such engagement, especially because underserved population groups have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic. Being at high risk for socio-economic hardship and health literacy disparities makes these groups particularly prone to being left behind in the context of community engagement, health education and, ultimately, immunization uptake.

A pair of gloved hands uses a syringe to inject an educated patient

Creating a positive impact through communication

The goal of community engagement is to provide information and education addressed to specific target groups in order to enable action. There is no one-fits-all approach, but in all cases, transparency in communication is critical to support informed decision-making on vaccination.

In this respect, the overarching principles of informed consent in health care should guide the communication approach and preparation of information tools for diverse populations:

  • Provide information about the immunization process, benefits and risks of a vaccine that is accurate and based on the current scientific evidence
  • Make it clear if information is uncertain or likely to change, and follow up with timely updates
  • Make information available in the form that can be easily used by the relevant population group, offering flexibility for diverse learning styles, varying levels of comfort with technology and for those with disabilities
  • Use simple and plain language. This does not mean "talking down" to the audience or stripping the information from the medical and technical details, but rather presenting the information in the language that allows people to find what they need, understand what they find the first time they read or hear it and use what they find to meet their needs
  • Involve relevant communities to elicit feedback on what type of content (and in which form) would be most relevant and comprehensible for them, and also to test information materials
  • Provide translation and/or interpreting support to remove language barriers
  • Encourage feedback and establish easily accessible channels for communication exchange with communities. Address questions, doubts and concerns voiced by them fully, in a timely and open manner, and tailor future communication accordingly.

Taking the opportunity to maximize on community engagement

The COVID-19 pandemic has filled the information space with the language typically used by professionals. Words like “herd immunity,” “assessment of safety and efficacy” and “clinical trials” have become part of the daily news. In response, public interest in better understanding specific terminology (and the wider research setting behind them) has increased. This presents an opportunity for vaccine developers, public health authorities and other involved stakeholders to use situational momentum and expand community-focused engagement activities.

As the current pandemic has shown, volume of information, available through the Internet and other media sources, does not necessarily equate to its usefulness or acceptability.

Targeted and culturally tailored communication is essential throughout the entire lifecycle of a vaccine product and of a vaccine campaign in order to achieve immunization goals. Reaching out to communities, helping them improve their health literacy and encouraging their active participation in decisions about their health care are bound to build greater trust, leading to improved engagement among the public, industry and authorities and, most importantly, better health outcomes.

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Nataliya Volohov
AUTHOR
Nataliya Volohov