Vaccine hesitancy and trust.: Ethical aspects of risk communication

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Scandinavian Journal of Public Health
Epub ahead of print
Vaccine hesitancy and trust.: Ethical aspects of risk communication
J Nihlén Fahlquist
Abstract [en]
Aim: This paper analyses vaccination policy from an ethical perspective, against the background of the growing hesitancy towards e.g. the measles vaccine.
Methods: The paper is normative and analyses ethical aspects of risk communication in the context of vaccination. It is argued that ethical analysis of risk communication should be done at the level of the message, the procedure and the effects. The paper takes examples from the Swedish context, linking the current lack of trust in experts to the 2009 vaccination policy and communication promoting the H1N1 vaccine Pandemrix.
Results: During the Swedish H1N1 vaccination policy in 2009, the message was that the vaccine is safe. However, a group of adolescents developed narcolepsy as a side effect of the vaccine. Taking this into account, it becomes clear that the government should communicate risks and benefits responsibly and take responsibility for individuals affected negatively by populational health interventions.
Conclusion: To communicate respectfully entails not treating vaccine sceptics as ill-informed or less educated, but instead taking the concerns of the vaccine hesitant, who potentially could change their minds, as a starting-point of a respectful discussion. There will inevitably be individuals who suffer from side effects of justifiable population-based health promotion activities. However, the public should be able to trust the message and count on the government to take responsibility for individuals affected by side effects. This is important for normative reasons, but is additionally likely to contribute to restored and maintained trust.