“If facts and information were the only solution then nobody would smoke anymore. If all our decisions were rational we probably wouldn’t buy increasing quantities of bottled water, and if studies were all that were needed to re-instate confidence in a vaccine, we would not be experiencing outbreaks of measles and mumps across Europe.”
Next week’s Fondation Merieux conference on immunisation policy promises to go beyond traditional approaches to vaccine acceptance by drilling down into the science of behaviour and the psychology of decision-making.
The opening quotation above, taken from the conference programme, says a lot about where current thinking on vaccination is moving.
Gone is the notion that filling in an information deficit will lead people to hold a positive view of vaccines.
Gone too is the paternalistic attitude that saw scientists or authorities tell people what’s best for them.
Devising systems to replace these traditional approaches has become an urgent task.
In truth, recent years have been a mixed bag for vaccination: we’ve seen the development of new innovative vaccines but access to these products is far from universal while immunisation rates for established vaccines have fallen in some countries.
A measles epidemic looks set to scupper attempts to wipe out the disease in Europe while polio remains stubbornly resistant to global eradication.
On the plus side, a renewed sense of momentum has gathered behind improving access to life-saving vaccines in the developing world, thanks in no small part to public-private partnerships such as the GAVI Alliance and high profile advocates like Bill Gates who have put the issue firmly on the political agenda.
Against this background, it is fitting to take stock of where immunisation policy stands and to ask where it should go.
Can the coalition of advocates, experts, parents, industry and policymakers that is coalescing around immunisation issues make a real difference to vaccination rates? And if so, how can they reach billions of individuals who are bombarded with information but unsure who to trust?
What can be learned from social media tools and cutting edge research in fields like behavioural economics?
The Fondation Merieux conference, Reinvigorating Immunisation Policy Implementation and Success – From Parent to Partner and from Broadcast to Engagement, will look at decision-making and communications in a world dominated by consumer choice and new media.
The three-day event in Annecy, France, kicks with a lecture from journalist Brian Deer, the Sunday Times reporter who broke several stories on the scientist behind the flawed research which falsely suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Anthropologists, psychologists, communications experts and leading vaccine industry figures will contribute to an in-depth discussion of how to meaningfully engage with the public on vaccination issues at such a critical time.
Follow the discussion on Twitter from November 21st to 23rd using the hashtag #ImmunoPol