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Community Health Partnerships Key to Combatting Vaccine Misinformation

Experts recommend community health partnerships to combat COVID-19 vaccine misinformation through accurate messaging across multiple channels.

UC Riverside Health experts have proposed that community health partnerships can combat the persistent wave of vaccine misinformation, giving public health officials access to greater public messaging assets.

Anti-vaccination activism has been around for as long as vaccines have existed, but with the help of social media, it has become increasingly well-organized and networked.

This activism comes with significant implications for public health, especially on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a viewpoint piece recently published in The Lancet authored by Richard M. Carpiano, a public policy professor at UC Riverside, and 20 other leading public health experts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst, propelling the movement into mainstream media while increasing COVID-19 vaccine misinformation across various channels.

Additionally, anti-vaccine activists have transitioned their focus from promoting vaccine hesitancy within specific niche communities to spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines while also targeting historically marginalized racial and ethnic communities.

Anti-vax messaging now uses political identity arguments surrounding medical freedom and parental rights to align with conservative and libertarian ideologies. Experts stated that this change was largely motivated by legislative efforts to remove personal belief exemptions from school vaccination.

Urgent measures are required to counteract these trends and respond effectively to this movement. To address this increased trending threat, Carpiano et al. suggested that collaboration is necessary between all relevant stakeholders, including public and private health officials, policymakers, and community leaders. Despite being separate entities, these groups can simultaneously share information with different audiences about the health and economic benefits of vaccines.

“We need to consistently amplify the best science and find the best ways of communicating so that people are hearing it through multiple channels instead of through one or two sources,” Carpiano et al. added.

Efforts to address vaccine messaging goals have proven ineffective when pursued separately. Public health networks and communications often need more coordination as they remain divided.

Public health professionals who have communicated about vaccines on social media typically do so in an ad hoc, grassroots manner, with limited support from public officials.

National vaccine advocacy groups are important in COVID-19 vaccine messages but are often underfunded and overwhelmed. While physicians are key messengers of vaccine information, some in academic or government-appointed positions have used their media presence to create public distrust in COVID-19 vaccines.

To address these challenges, experts recommended the development of networked communities that can effectively reach the public with timely and impactful vaccine-related information. They also suggest seeking input from outside the usual public health agencies to counteract messaging by anti-vaccine activists. Finally, coordinated efforts among networked communities can counteract relevant trends in the anti-vaccine movement and preempt its well-funded messaging.

“Building networked, coordinated initiatives will be challenging, but the stakes are too high to ignore,” the experts stated. “Without concerted efforts to counter the anti-vaccine movement, the USA faces an ever-growing burden of morbidity and mortality from an increasingly under-vaccinated, vaccine-hesitant society.”

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