Pulitzer Center Update

Experts Discuss Challenges of Combating COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation

The Pulitzer Center and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute convened a panel of experts for a virtual event on January 27, 2021, to discuss how to best combat COVID-19 vaccine misinformation while accurately conveying the risks and benefits associated with vaccination. The conversation was moderated by Lauran Neergaard, a medical writer at the Associated Press.

“There is real concern about how many people will actually get in line once there are more supplies and it’s their turn,” Neergaard said. “Adding to some of the confusion that’s out there is the fact that there are many different types of vaccines that are being rolled out in different parts of the world. They work differently, they're made differently, and the degrees of scientific information behind them also is different.”

The panelists included Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association; Heidi Larson, anthropologist and director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; and social psychologist Carol Tavris

One theme that emerged throughout the conversation was the importance of having empathy for those who feel hesitant or skeptical about the vaccine.

“You don’t put a recipient of your message in a position that makes them feel foolish or incompetent for holding that position,” Tavris said. “You have to start from where they are — what their worries are, what their fears are, what their feelings are — to try to acknowledge those underneath the expressed opinion.”