(WXYZ) — Vaccine hesitancy could stand in the way of COVID-19 herd immunity, researchers at the University of Michigan said.
They said vaccine hesitancy could represent nearly 30% of Americans and even more in Europe. That reluctance is due to longstanding mistrust in technical, health and government institutions, and challenges efforts to achieve herd immunity and ultimately return some semblance of normalcy, according to University of Michigan researchers.
"Contrary to popular belief, not all vaccine hesitancy is the same. Nor is it simply the result of ignorance or antipathy towards science," the researchers wrote in the study, "In Communities We Trust: Institutional Failures and Sustained Solutions for Vaccine Hesitancy."
The study found two main causes of public mistrust: limitations and failures in scientific and technical institutions, and institutionalized mistreatment of marginalized communities.
Researchers said government failures and misdeeds further foster alienation and distrust, which make those affected more likely to believe misinformation, exacerbated by media fragmentation and ideological silos of social media.
In short, they said, people might be hesitant to take a COVID vaccine because they " feel that they have been controlled, and that their needs and perspectives have been ignored for decades."
"Given these institutional failures at all levels, we might be surprised that rates of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy are not even higher," the researchers wrote.
So what can be done?
For starters, researchers said scientific and government institutions must acknowledge their own failures of communication, regulation and oversight.
The study offers several recommendations, including interventions focused on building community trust, increasing research and educational funding, and improving accountability and oversight within institutions. And they offer model examples of how other domains have implemented such ideas.
"At its root, vaccine hesitancy is a problem of public mistrust in institutions. For decades, our public health, medical, and science and technology policy institutions have ignored and even mistreated our most marginalized communities, and these communities are now understandably skeptical of this intense focus on their vaccination," said Shobita Parthasarathy, director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, in a press release.
"In order to address these feelings of mistrust and alienation, in this pandemic and for future public health and policy initiatives, these institutions need to take the needs and priorities of these communities seriously and make systemic change accordingly. This must be a long-term project."
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