Following is a statement by Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, CEO of the American Psychological Association, in response to the approval by an advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration of a vaccine against COVID-19:
“This important step toward approval of the COVID-19 vaccine created by Pfizer and BioNTech is a welcome development, but a challenging road lies ahead. The American Psychological Association supports widespread uptake of proven vaccines as they become available. To accomplish that, it will be critical to deploy what experts know about human behavior to reduce vaccine hesitancy and increase vaccine confidence. Psychological science can inform areas of trust, persuasion, cognitive bias, judgment and social behavior, which will be key to successful adoption of the vaccine.
“We recognize that there are pockets of resistance to vaccines, distrust of the medical establishment and misinformation about vaccines generally. Persistent gaps and racial disparities already exist in vaccination uptake. Some populations are understandably less likely to accept vaccinations due to a legacy of mistrust rooted in unethical public health practices.
“It is necessary to address these potential roadblocks directly by making vaccines easily available, being transparent about their effects and enlisting trusted spokespeople to go into communities and speak frankly about the need to get inoculated.
“It is critical that leaders across the political spectrum unite behind messages of vaccine safety and transparency.”
APA offered the following science-based guidance to health care officials and policymakers in their efforts to persuade people to take the vaccine as it becomes available to them:
- Reduce psychological and physical barriers for getting vaccinations, including the second dose. Especially for rural and marginalized populations, officials should continue to encourage vaccinations to be administered not just in doctors’ offices but at COVID-19 testing sites, pharmacies, schools, places of worship, town fairs, workplaces and other locations that are easily accessible and where people feel comfortable.
- Eliminate financial barriers to getting the vaccine, including lost wages. Research shows that even small financial barriers can change help-seeking behaviors. For instance, employers should allow workers to use paid time off to get vaccinated and on the day following the vaccine if side effects are difficult to manage.
- Use lessons from risk communication to inform the public. Enlist credible spokespeople who can connect with diverse communities, especially those where mistrust and skepticism run high. When leaders talk about vaccines as standard practices, as opposed to options, people are more likely to accept them. Research suggests building trust and providing clear information about vaccines can improve vaccination uptake rates. It is critical that leaders across the political spectrum unite behind vaccine safety and transparency, clearly explaining what is in the vaccine and what it does and doesn’t do in the body.
- Consider the wide variety of factors that motivate human behavior. Behavioral science indicates that people are more likely to adhere to vaccine recommendations when they believe they are susceptible to the illness, when they want to protect others, when they believe the vaccine is safe or at least safer than the illness, and when their concerns and questions are managed respectfully by doctors and experts.