At Risk Analysis, Heidi J. Larson, Leesa Lin, and Rob Goble have an article titled "Vaccines and the social amplification of risk." The abstract:
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) named “Vaccine Hesitancy” one of the top 10 threats to global health. Shortly afterward, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged as the world's predominant health concern. COVID-19 vaccines of several types have been developed, tested, and partially deployed with remarkable speed; vaccines are now the primary control measure and hope for a return to normalcy. However, hesitancy concerning these vaccines, along with resistance to masking and other control measures, remains a substantial obstacle. The previous waves of vaccine hesitancy that led to the WHO threat designation, together with recent COVID-19 experience, provide a window for viewing new forms of social amplification of risk (SAR). Not surprisingly, vaccines provide fertile ground for questions, anxieties, concerns, and rumors. These appear in new globalized hyperconnected communications landscapes and in the context of complex human (social, economic, and political) systems that exhibit evolving concerns about vaccines and authorities. We look at drivers, impacts, and implications for vaccine initiatives in several recent historical examples and in the current efforts with COVID-19 vaccination. Findings and insights were drawn from the Vaccine Confidence Project's decade long monitoring of media and social media and its related research efforts. The trends in vaccine confidence and resistance have implications for updating the social amplification of risk framework (SARF); in turn, SARF has practical implications for guiding efforts to alleviate vaccine hesitancy and to mitigate harms from intentional and unintentional vaccine scares.From the article:
The initial appearance of the Wakefield report linking the MMR vaccine with autism can serve as an illustration of such an application:
Stage 1: Triggering event: a research article is published in Lancet (Wakefield et al., 1998), suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine to the development of autism: stories followed in various news media, popular magazines, tv shows, professional journals, and official recommendations: these describe in various ways the study, the vaccine, its expected efficacy, the possible side effects, with particular focus on the possibility of autism, the nature of autism and what is known and not known, the prevalence and nature of measles, mumps, and rubella, and the trustworthiness of information about entities recommending the vaccine; multiple conversations occurred among individuals and groups in an effort to interpret this barrage of information; perceptions form about the risks of the vaccine and perceptions of the risk of the disease are adjusted; and perceptions on various related issues, including other vaccines and the institutions that manufacture, regulate, and recommend vaccines are reconsidered.
Stage 2: Based on their recently formed perceptions, individuals choose to respond by following or not following recommendations to have their children vaccinated. They may also choose to engage in further communication about the possible issues or even to join groups concerned to promote or debunk the claims. Feedback from these responses may encourage further communication about the study. Institutions consider whether to respond with further studies or with recommendations to the public.
Stage 3: The choices to vaccinate or not directly affect the risks that the children experience from the diseases the vaccine aimed to prevent. Other choices may be about other health decisions—for example due to loss of trust—and provoke risks of other types.
Feedback: Parents who already had anxieties about autism as well as some parents with autistic children embraced the findings as it gave an explanation for the seemingly growing phenomena of autism. Some organized groups and individuals communicated messages against the MMR vaccine, while others joined campaigns to debunk the proposed autism link and promote the MMR vaccine. Health institutions responded with their own communication efforts; these were intensified as further studies contradicted Wakefield's and his article was retracted by Lancet (Taylor et al., 2014).