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Health vs. Public Opinion: How to Navigate and Respond to the Hesitant Population – The European Sting – Critical News & Insights on European Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Business & Technology

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This article was written exclusively for The European Sting by Mr. Martin Duranik, 3rd year medical student at Pavol Jozef Safarik University, currently VPE SloMSA Slovakia. It is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA), a cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this article belong strictly to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IFMSA on the subject, nor that of The European Sting.


Covid-19 has hit the world by surprise, exploiting every preparedness gap and self-proclaimed invincibility in the face of such threats. There is no doubt that the world was profoundly changed by this terrifying experience. And it’s not just the aspect of physical health – a profound shift has taken place in the perspective of health care. We have gone from a doctor-patient relationship to public debate.

First, we need to rethink this approach. The doctor-patient relationship has been defined as “a consensual relationship in which the patient knowingly seeks the assistance of the physician and in which the physician knowingly accepts the person as a patient”. (1) But why insist so much? While public debate may be the most valuable and valued interaction in free society, it is not tailored to meet an individual’s needs within an underlying global health context. Large amounts of accessible data, especially on the Internet, can confuse even experts, let alone the general population. It is the quita essentia of hesitation itself. It is possible to avoid misunderstanding the authority of an expert in his field for individuals seeking recognition by moving the conversation from the public space to the doctor’s office.

However, to be trustworthy, we should devote some of our energy to trying to create comprehensive guidelines for physicians themselves. Any doubt from an expert is projected negatively onto a patient and undermines trust between the two. During the pandemic, even if they were created, they provided ample space for potential confusion and uncertainty – leaving physicians alone to decide on a highly socially discussed issue. The older generation of healthcare professionals, more rigid in an online environment, providing patient care in predominantly rural areas, is particularly vulnerable. (2) These areas are vital for successful vaccination coverage, because if in urban areas the vaccination rate exceeds 75%, in rural areas it does not exceed 59%. (3)

In addition, resources dedicated to immunization awareness should be targeted to a hesitant audience, not the denier. A Slovak survey revealed that only 20% of respondents are explicitly against vaccination, while almost 50% are hesitant. (4) The current attempt to persuade the antivax community seems long, costly, and therefore ineffective. Worse still, the already often wary government’s sense of urgency and pressure is diverted to support the anti campaign.

In conclusion, our goal for successfully overcoming vaccine hesitancy should be to effectively target the right demographic group, accept the proposal made by the opposition to the vaccine, and prevent the government from interfering in public vaccination campaigns. Instead, it should lay out exact guidelines for doctors to follow, strengthening the doctor-patient relationship and, ultimately, stabilizing the ongoing divide in our society. IGOs and NGOs must continue their work of sensitizing the population. This can lead to the government and other organizations being seen as one, which does not overwhelm them with other health-related discussions. If done correctly, we could achieve the same universal acceptance of vaccines as we had before the antivax covid campaign.

References:

1. QT, Inc v. Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, 2006 US Dist. LEXIS 33668, at *10 (ND III May 15, 2006)

2. Palmer, John. “As rural records age, will there be enough left?” Patient Safety and Quality Health CareSeptember 6, 2019, https://www.psqh.com/analysis/as-rural-docs-age-will-there-be-enough-left/.

3. Saelee R, Zell E, Murthy BP, et al. Disparities in COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage Between Urban and Rural Counties — United States, December 14, 2020–January 31, 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2022;71:335–340. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7109a2external icon

4. IPSOS sr o: „TLAČOVÁ SPRÁVA: NA SLOVENSKU BY SA DALA PROTI VÍRUSU COVID-19 URČITE ZAOČKOVAŤ MENEJ NEŽ TRETINA POPULÁCIE, TÝCH, KTORÍ VAKCÍNU ZÁSADNE ODMIETAJÚ JE ALE EŠTE MENEJ. V KRAJINÁCH, KDE SA UŽ OČKOVALO OCHOTA STÚPLA.“ 11. 1. 2021. https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/ct/news/documents/2021-01/ipsos_prieskum_ockovanie_proti_covid-19_tlacova_sprava_11._1._2021 .pdf

About the Author

Martin Duranik is a 3rd year medical student at Pavol Jozef Safarik University, currently VPE SloMSA Slovakia. Having started in the local activities of SCOME, later engaging in the process of student assessment and accreditation, he is also a member of the Slovak Student Council for Higher Education. He participated in the preparation of a statement by the SSSF (IPSF) for the European Commission on the low use of COVID-19 vaccines. His hobbies are philosophy, in-depth discussions of the coffee industry, and karaoke nights.