Meeting the challenge of vaccination hesitancy

Annenberg School for Communication professor Damon Centola explores root causes of vaccine hesitancy and actionable steps to address it.

In 2019, the World Health Organization declared vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health. In recent years, worldwide measles outbreaks in communities with low immunization rates have revealed gaps in the herd immunity that once protected us, including the United States’ largest measles outbreak in 20 years in 2019. The troubling trend of declining vaccination uptake is fueled by complacency and loss of confidence in the system that develops, produces, recommends, and delivers vaccines. And, of course, nothing in recent memory has underscored the urgency of a strong vaccine system more than COVID-19. 

A doctor gives a baby a vaccine while the child’s parent holds them.

While effective vaccines to control the current pandemic are likely at least a year away, public health officials believe the time to build confidence in those vaccines is now. A new report from the Sabin-Aspen Vaccine Science & Policy Group presents an in-depth analysis into the root causes of vaccine hesitancy and actionable steps to address it. Author of “How Behavior Spreads” and an expert in network science, Annenberg School for Communication professor Damon Centola contributed an essay, entitled “The Complex Contagion of Doubt in the Anti-Vaccine Movement,” to the report. 

“A successful campaign of anti-vaccine sentiment does not need to convince every parent of every anti-vaccine fact or falsehood,” Centola explains. “It simply needs to generate sufficient credibility for the anti-vaccination perspective that people begin to doubt the safety of vaccines.”

Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.