Distrust of Doctors Has Grown: What Can We Do About It?

Hartej Gill, PhD(c)


April 19, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated vaccination efforts have brought the issue of vaccine hesitancy to the forefront of media and public attention. From 2019 to 2021, the prevalence of the term "hesitancy" in titles of scientific literature has risen from 3.3% to 8.3%, and continued skepticism around the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines remains a significant barrier in achieving global herd immunity. A 2020 survey of over 300,000 adults from more than 110 countries reported that 32% of respondents are unwilling to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine. Globally, this is the equivalent of 1.3 billion individuals refusing to participate in the vaccination efforts.

Vaccines have been shown to be over 90% effective against serious illness and hospitalization, subsequently reducing healthcare burden. With many parts of the world easing COVID-19 lockdown measures, it is imperative to revisit the topic of hesitancy in the medical community and best practices for future events.

The Then and Now

Since the development of vaccines, the average time between identification of a disease-causing pathogen and the development of an effective vaccine (with the exclusion of COVID-19 and smallpox) was 48 years. Following vaccine development, the average time for vaccinating 20% of the global population was 36 years, and 42 years for 40% coverage. This is in stark contrast to COVID-19, where the vaccine was developed in less than 1 year following identification of the disease-causing pathogen, and 20% global coverage was reached in less than 8 months and 40% coverage in an additional 3 months.

This can be attributed to incredible advances in vaccine technology, including mRNA vaccines, as well as international collaboration efforts to produce a vaccine. Notwithstanding the heightened need for an intervention against COVID-19, the rapid turnaround has been a concern cited by many who have opted to forgo the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified vaccines as one of the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. However, public hesitancy surrounding vaccinations has markedly impacted the success of these interventions in promoting immunity for various vaccine-moderated diseases within the US.

In the face of a growing body of evidence to underscore the safety and efficacy of vaccinations, controversies and misinformation surrounding vaccines remain apparent. The resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and pertussis highlights the importance of accurate dissemination of information as a priority healthcare measure. 

Additionally, regional differences in willingness to vaccinate exist. In large part, this can be attributed to how information is disseminated. The primary source of medical information from news sources or perception of medical advice from a politically motivated agenda can discredit and undermine important healthcare measures. It has been a stark reminder for the importance of effective communication in the medical community.

As advances are made in therapeutic approaches across a wide domain of medical fields, the dissemination of information to the public will be an important consideration. The current pandemic should be treated as a learning experience not only for the vaccination efforts, but also the importance of effective scientific communication.

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About Hartej Gill
Hartej Gill is a PhD candidate and researcher at the Canadian Rapid Treatment Center of Excellence and the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto. He has expertise in mood disorders, investigating the etiology and pathophysiology of mental health disorders from both a clinical study and population health perspective, with over 50 peer-reviewed publications.


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