newsinfomain COVID19Webinar ProfHeidiLarson

The “COVID-19: Updates from Singapore” weekly webinar series is a forum for leading clinicians, scientists, public health officials and policy makers to share insights from their fields of study. The twelfth edition of the webinar was held on Thursday, 25 June.

Professor Heidi Larson, Founding Director of The Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was this week’s invited guest speaker. Prof Larson’s research interests lie in the analysis of social and political factors that affect the uptake of health interventions and policy influence as well as risk and rumour management of vaccine delivery while building public trust. In this webinar session, Prof Larson discussed The Vaccine Confidence Project, its purposes and relevance to COVID-19.

Prof Larson started by explaining that the hesitant attitudes towards vaccines is not new. The Vaccine Confidence Project was set up to educate people and increase knowledge and awareness of vaccines and immunisation to obtain trust. It was discovered that trust in vaccines is about much more than the product, it speaks of confidence in the product, confidence in the providers and confidence in policymakers and systems.

The emergence of COVID-19 adds to the existing problem of getting people to accept existing vaccines. Prof Larson highlighted that the recent imposed lockdowns to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 has led to serious implications involving people’s access to other health interventions and care, such as receiving basic childhood vaccines (e.g. for measles). There is a worry that of potential measles outbreaks, occurring alongside COVID-19 in at-risk countries and regions.

Besides, anti-vaccine sentiments that have been growing slowly and for a period of time in some regions have entered the conversation on any potential COVID-19 vaccine. A common concern is that a vaccine which is created too quickly is unsafe. Similar sentiments which enter the social media environment amplify these concerns, and it is therefore crucial to manage these anxieties promptly. Prof Larson pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic can be used to rebuild public trust in the systems and governments, and how governments are handling COVID-19 responses will give weight to and greatly influence public willingness to take a COVID-19 vaccine, and any other vaccine.

Recognising the need to constantly monitor the change in sentiments and perceptions, the organisation created a vaccine confidence index, to quickly identify concerns and allay them. Prof Larson agreed that not all vaccines are risk-free as there will also be unscrupulous businesses who would fake vaccines for a quick profit. On vaccine production, she highlights a need to stringently monitor businesses to ensure quality and safety control measures are in place, to ensure high quality vaccines.

WATCH: COVID-19 Updates from Singapore: Webinar 12 | Prof Heidi Larson

In the next “COVID-19: Updates from Singapore” session happening on 2 July 2020, hear from the man who has battled a coronavirus infection – Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Handa Professor of Global Health.

Prof Piot will be speaking about the "Current Global Efforts on COVID-19 Research & Development" and take stock of where we are with global efforts on R&D, production, and equitable access to new COVID-19 health technologies and what is needed as societies learn to live with the virus. Click here to register for the session.