Separating the facts from the fiction about the COVID-19 vaccination

  • Date

    Thu 7 Jan 21

Cover of COVID-19 vaccine handbook

A new COVID 19 vaccine handbook, aimed at increasing vaccination rates by improving communication and fighting misinformation has just been published.

COVID 19 has infected over 78 million worldwide and killed 1.7 million people so far. Scientists believe vaccines hold the key to beating the deadly pandemic and releasing countries from debilitating lockdown restrictions. But they can only be effective if people are vaccinated.

A team of renowned scientific experts from across the world have created the unique online guide to arm people with the very latest information and evidence to talk reliably about the vaccines, constructively challenge myths, and allay related fears.

Dr Dawn Liu Holford and Dr Marie Juanchich, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex contributed to the guide. Dr Juanchich explained: “The race is on to vaccinate as many people as possible so it is up to us all to understand the facts, follow the guidance and spread the word.

“Sadly social media has led to conspiracy theories and other misleading claims being shared rampantly. These could discourage people from being vaccinated and compromise efforts to achieve global immunity. 

“Our aim was to offer some concrete tips to discuss constructively about vaccination with people who still hesitate or even with people who have more hard core conspiracy beliefs such as anti vaxxers."

The COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Handbook sets out the facts, highlighting how the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and effective. It also addresses how to respond to many common, but false, beliefs about the vaccines. For example, to address concerns about the speed with which the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, it is important to stress the rapid response was possible due to the enormous worldwide effort—funding was no object, thousands of scientists contributed, and tens of thousands took part in clinical trials.

Dr Holford said: "This handbook comes at a time when people are now deciding whether to accept a COVID-19 vaccine, so how we talk about vaccines is crucial to helping everyone make an informed decision with the facts. 

“It is important to stress to people that although no medicine is ever risk-free, the COVID-19 vaccines have actually been tested on more people than many previous vaccines, and any side-effects were mild, short-lived, and rare. The risk of disease thus far outweighs any risk from the vaccine."

Lead author Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, from the University of Bristol, added: “Vaccines are our ticket to freedom and communication about them is a vital weapon to fight this devastating virus. The way all of us refer to and discuss the COVID-19 vaccines can literally help win this battle 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.”

The evidence-based guide, which has been compiled by more than 50 leading experts, provides links to an online resource with more details for each of the key topics, giving people access to more in-depth research and allowing further comments and guidance to be added in real-time.  

Experts in vaccine psychology, education, and virology have volunteered their time and expertise to produce this living document, which will continue to evolve as the vaccine rollout gains pace.