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New COVID-19 vaccine handbook created to educate the general public

This handbook comes at a crucial time – when people around the world are deciding whether or not they will accept a COVID-19 vaccine.

Birkbeck academics along with a team of renowned scientific experts from across the world have joined forces to help fight the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines, which hold the key to beating the deadly pandemic and releasing countries from debilitating lockdown restrictions.

Together they have created a unique online guide, The COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Handbookpublished today which seeks to arm people with practical tips combined with the very latest information and evidence to talk reliably about the vaccines, constructively challenge myths, and allay related fears.

The guide and supporting online “Wiki” are aimed at everyone, from doctors to politicians, teachers to journalists and parents to older generations, and should enable users to not only gather straightforward how-to information, but also dig deeper into the underlying evidence.

This project is an activity of the SciBeh initiative. This initiative was created in March 2020 by Birkbeck’s Professor Ulrike Hahn together with colleagues, in order to help reconfigure behavioural science research for pandemic response and utilise the expertise of scientists not yet engaged in the policy process. 

Professor Hahn commented: “We needed to meet the huge challenge of the pandemic with all the resources the behavioural science community can make available, particularly because human behaviour has been, and will remain, centre-stage in our efforts to combat the disease.”

Lead author on the vaccine handbook, Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol, said: “Vaccines are our ticket to freedom and communication about them is a vital weapon to fight this devastating virus and get everyone on board. The way all of us refer to and discuss the COVID-19 vaccines can literally help win this battle by tackling misinformation and improving uptake, which is crucial. That’s why we produced this handbook so everyone has the basics, as well as more comprehensive information, at their fingertips and can do their part in sharing facts, not fiction, to put us on the road to recovery rather than a path of further suffering.”

Social media has fuelled a so-called ‘infodemic’, resulting in conspiracy theories and other misleading claims being shared rampantly, which could discourage people from being vaccinated and compromise efforts to achieve herd immunity. The COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Handbook sets out the facts, highlighting how the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and effective.

Advancing previous publications to combat bogus claims and falsehoods, this evidence-based guide compiled by more than 50 leading experts, links to a Wiki of further detail for each of the key topics, giving people access to more in-depth research and allowing further comments and guidance to be added in real-time. Experts in vaccine psychology, education, and virology have volunteered their time and expertise to produce this living document, which will continue to evolve through the Wiki as the vaccine rollout gains pace. Topics in the guide include public behaviour and attitudes, policy, facts, and misinformation.

Co-author Julie Leask, a social scientist and Professor at the University of Sydney who chairs one of the WHO Vaccination Working Groups said: “The safest and most effective vaccines against COVID-19 are of no use if people cannot, or will not, take them. This handbook comes at a crucial time – when people around the world are deciding whether or not they will accept a COVID-19 vaccine. More than ever, we need to be communicating effectively and the handbook brings the science of communication to the communicators.”    

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