Towards understanding the media coverage on vaccines

This is a news item written by the Jagiellonian University (JU) team based on VAX-TRUST Work Package 3 “Media coverage related to vaccination”. JU is the leader of Work Package 3.

Multiplicity of vaccine discourses

People taking or not taking decisions on vaccines are exposed to various vaccine discourses. They use different sources of information that coproduce the controversies around vaccines. During the Covid-19 pandemic time, this changed considerably: “The media showed that the production and distribution of vaccines are complex processes and related to political, financial, technological and scientific issues”, says Maria Świątkiewicz-Mośny, a researcher in VAX-TRUST project at the Jagiellonian University (JU) in Poland. This is why the effort of policymakers and health care professionals should be focused on “opening this ‘black box’ of vaccines by explaining the processes of producing and approving vaccines and the ways vaccines work in our bodies”, stresses Świątkiewicz-Mośny.

Major differences in pro- and anti-vaccine discourses

Vaccine hesitant individuals are exposed to different rhetoric in different moments of time. The pro-vaccine discourses located mainly in the mainstream media are closely related to the governance of the population and as such, they are part and parcel of the managing of the pandemic situation. It makes them more abstract, especially since they are primarily based on numbers and statistics. Aleksandra Wagner, a researcher in JU team, emphasises that ”The sceptical discourses more often use testimonies and appeal to emotions. It makes them more persuasive and moving”.

Important to avoid labels

Labelling vaccine sceptics as ignorant or locating them outside the scientific world is not adequate. “Alternative, vaccine-sceptical discourses do not undermine the science itself but pose concrete critique towards single studies or the methods of obtaining results in research”, states Paulina Polak, a leading scholar of the VAX-TRUST consortium from JU. “Overall, vaccine hesitancy should be understood in the broader context of societal changes: individualisation, democratising knowledge and decreasing trust in public institutions and expert systems”, Polak says.

Awareness of healthcare professionals

“Healthcare professionals need to be aware of the different vaccine discourses that surround their clients”, underscores Tadeusz Rudek, a researcher in the JU team. Also, the media should maybe address the individual factors influencing vaccination decisions more often in the mainstream discourses, rather than just keeping with discourses that govern and manage vaccinations programs. “Healthcare professionals should be conscious that the authority of science is not given once and for all but must be worked out. In the context of various discourses, experts, and symbolical resources, professionals must be prepared to solve the controversy repeatedly”, Rudek concludes.