Written by Nicole Scholz,

© jessicagirvan / Adobe Stock

The arrival of the Covid-19 vaccines marks a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. For European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, vaccination is about self‑protection and solidarity. For many people, it is also about trust. Some are hesitant to get vaccinated, while others are against vaccination on principle. According to estimates, coverage of at least 60 % to 75 % is needed to establish population immunity through vaccination.

Polls show that sizeable numbers of people in the EU are hesitant − or even opposed − to vaccination in general. As regards Covid-19 vaccination, surveys suggest that Europeans are among the most sceptical in the world. According to the World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy is complex and context-specific, varying across time, place and vaccine. Science has identified several behavioural factors underpinning vaccine uptake. Vaccine scepticism can also be linked to trust in government and is associated with certain political mindsets.

Many commentators agree that Covid-19 vaccine communication is a collective endeavour that should ideally involve institutional actors, healthcare professionals, scientists, journalists and people with standing in communities. There is a need to engage with the wider public, in particular with groups that have a low level of trust in scientists and are less favourable to vaccines. It is considered key to move towards an open dialogue that respects people’s emotions, and to understand the individual values behind doubters’ fears. Reaching diverse populations is deemed instrumental, as is involving political and community leaders in communication strategies.

The December 2020 European Council conclusions stressed the importance of providing clear factual information on Covid-19 vaccines and countering disinformation. The European Commission is set to roll out a two-phase vaccine communication campaign complementing the Member States’ efforts. The European Parliament has insisted on the need to counter the spread of unreliable, misleading and unscientific information on vaccination, and Members have repeatedly called for more transparency on the EU advance purchase agreements with vaccine developers.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Covid-19 vaccination campaigns: The public dimension‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Figure 1 Tips for professional reporting on Covid-19 (World Health Organization)
Figure 1 Tips for professional reporting on Covid-19 (World Health Organization)