How Journalists Can Help Build Trust in Vaccines

How Journalists Can Help Build Trust in Vaccines giving compass
Giving Compass' Take:
  • Jeanne Bourgault explains some of the reasons why attempts to build vaccine confidence have floundered thus far, and offers strategies to reduce uncertainty and increase participation.
  • What factors contribute to mistrust of vaccines? How can funders help to support organizations working on trust-building, especially in vulnerable populations?
  • Read about the roots of vaccine hesitancy.

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If people don't trust the efficacy and safety of vaccines, we may never inoculate enough of the world's population to get COVID-19 under control. Despite public health leaders pointing at the importance of such trust—the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019 noted it as one of the top 10 global health risks—there a very few efforts focused on bolstering it.

Any organization tasked with getting critical information to local communities—whether a government, public health nonprofit, advocacy group, or other entity taking on social issues—needs a strategy for making sure their message is received and embraced. Trust is integral to not just distributing vaccines, but fundraisinginstitutional reformovercoming racial divides, and many other goals related to social change.

Building trust won't work by relying on messages from distant figures, such as current and former national leaders around the world lining up to take vaccines on camera. Trying to clean up communication platforms—seen in Facebook's pledges to delete vaccine disinformation—may be encouraging, but is most likely a futile game of whack-a-mole.

To build trust with communities, the experience of the journalists we at Internews work with shows us that organizations must take three actions at a deeply local level. They involve the careful selection of information partners, conversational communication techniques, and openness about data sources:

  1. Mobilize Trusted Local Messengers
    When people get good information from a trusted source, they are more likely to believe the information itself. But it's hard to claim such a respected spot in an information ecosystem overnight, and during a crisis there is little time to develop trust in new ideas or organizations.
  2. Create Conversations
    National public health campaigns are important, but data points from distant and impersonal sources do little to generate trust. Gatherings of small groups of local communities and outside experts—virtually or in person—are a better way to distribute high-quality information. Even in distanced or virtual interactions, people trust those who speak directly with them.
  3. Embrace Transparency
    Research shows that open access to data and independent review inspire more trust in health-related information. Nearly 60 percent of Americans say they trust scientific research findings more if the researchers make their data publicly available.

Local journalists can be a great ally in the fight—they already claim a position of trust in communities, they embrace communication techniques that emphasize listening and transparency, and they are increasingly skilled at data analysis and presentation. Doing this difficult and important work must happen sooner rather than later. Not only will it aid in beating back COVID-19, but it will also lay a stronger foundation for tackling inevitable future crises.

Read the full article about building vaccine trust by Jeanne Bourgault at Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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