Heidi Larson, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Screengrab by: LSHTM via YouTube

A key factor in public confidence in vaccines? “People need to feel that they care about their general well-being,” said Heidi Larson, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the world’s foremost experts in tackling vaccine misinformation.

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A key lesson Larson learned from polio eradication work was that people distrusted health workers who focused solely on gunshots rather than a more holistic approach to their public health, Larson said during a Devex event at the 74th World Health Assembly.

“We heard a lot: ‘Why do you keep coming back with the same vaccine, our kids are dying of measles, look at the dirty water you went through to come here, we have different needs. We don’t trust why you’re pushing this one cause and not helping us stay alive more generally. ‘“

When health workers appear to be “just there to keep giving a vaccine,” they risk distrust among the communities in which they work.

Africans consider COVID-19 vaccines to be less safe than other vaccines

In a CDC survey in Africa, most respondents considered COVID-19 vaccines to be less safe than those for other diseases. Health professionals call for continuous monitoring when countries introduce vaccines.

Why it matters: Discussions around COVID-19 focused heavily on ending the pandemic through the spread of vaccines around the world, mainly through the COVAX mechanism jointly run by the World Health Organization.

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However, less emphasis has been placed on strengthening health systems and public health more broadly – in fact, the UK has cut some health funding as part of its controversial aid budget cuts.

Larson’s comments are a reminder that public health goes beyond vaccines.

“In any type of vaccination work, it is important that we take this extra time to understand what the concerns and other perceived needs are in the community, and somehow put the vaccine in context … so there is Feeling like there is care beyond this vaccine, ”Larson said.

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