Scientists from across the world have created an online guide to help fight the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus vaccines.
The experts say the guide will arm people with practical tips, the latest information and evidence to talk reliably about the vaccines, constructively challenge associated myths, and allay fears.
Led by the University of Bristol, the scientists are appealing to everyone, from doctors to parents, to understand the facts, follow the guidance, and spread the word.
Lead author Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, of the University of Bristol, said: ‘Vaccines are our ticket to freedom and communication about them should be our passport to getting everyone on board.
‘The way all of us refer to and discuss the Covid-19 vaccines can literally help win the battle against this devastating virus by tackling misinformation and improving uptake, which is crucial.
‘That’s why we produced this handbook so everyone has the basics, as well as more comprehensive information, at their fingertips and can do their part in sharing facts, not fiction, to put us on the road to recovery rather than a path of further suffering.’
In a bid to combat conspiracy theories and other misleading claims being shared on social media, the Covid-19 Vaccine Communication Handbook sets out the facts, highlighting how the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and effective.
Co-author Professor Adam Finn, a University of Bristol virologist who has played a key role in the Covid-19 vaccine developments, said: ‘Accurate information about vaccines is becoming harder to distinguish from convincing but misleading fiction.
‘This reduces uptake and so their impact on public health and harms us all. Although vaccines enjoy majority support that politicians can only dream of, we can no longer take this for granted.
‘It’s time to take the initiative in ensuring people are not duped into making wrong decisions that harm them, their children and their communities.’
Topics in the handbook include public behaviour and attitudes, policy, facts, and misinformation.
Co-author Julie Leask, a social scientist and Professor at the University of Sydney who chairs one of the World Health Organisation working groups on vaccinations, said: ‘The safest and most effective vaccines against Covid-19 are of no use if people cannot, or will not, take them.
‘This handbook comes at a crucial time – when people around the world are deciding whether or not they will accept a Covid-19 vaccine. More than ever, we need to be communicating effectively and the handbook brings the science of communication to the communicators.’
Professor Lewandowsky added: ‘It’s important to challenge and debunk misinformation in a positive, constructive manner.
‘I encourage people to approach this by providing a truth sandwich – start with the key facts, including that the vaccines have been shown to be 95% effective and have been comprehensively tested without cutting any corners.
‘Then address the misinformation.
‘For instance, if people say the vaccine can’t have been tested properly because it was developed so quickly, explain why this isn’t the case.
‘Given the severity of the pandemic, more resources and expertise than ever were dedicated to this effort.
‘Due to its high profile, volunteers for the trials were recruited much faster than usual.
‘The Ebola vaccine effectively took 10 months from initial testing to trials in the field, so this has been done before. Then finally reiterate the facts so they stay fresh mind.’
The guide can be accessed at https://sks.to/c19vax