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The advent of covid-19 vaccination is giving the world hope of ending the pandemic, but many countries remain consumed by the spread of the virus.
Therefore, while we await the generalization of the availability and distribution of vaccines, preventive health measures, such as social distancing, the use of masks and hand washing, will continue to be essential to contain the disease.
The contagion of misinformation
Misinformation about vaccines: neither reject all of them nor accept them "without question"
The science of misinformation
For some people, it is not feasible to adhere to these guidelines.
Many poor people, for example, have to contend with overcrowded situations, limited access to clean water and soap, and the absence of strong social safety nets.
Beyond the material limitations, however, there are others related to information and trust.
Some people may not be aware of the public health guidelines, or they may not understand the specific steps to take.
Misinformation about covid-19 can undermine recommended measures.
And, in some contexts, a lack of trust in the health system itself can reduce adherence to guidelines.
As biomedical researchers and public health experts scrambled to gain knowledge of the new coronavirus in early 2020, economists and other social scientists set to work to test policies and programs related to COVID-19. 19.
The set of findings they developed contains important lessons for overcoming information limitations, combating misinformation, and building trust in health systems.
This insight can also help increase vaccine acceptance and improve vaccine delivery.
One study consisted of sending two-and-a-half-minute videos on covid-19 via text messages, which were sent to 25 million people in West Bengal, India.
The videos provided instructions for these people to notify community health workers of any symptoms, and emphasized the importance of adopting preventive behaviors.
Recipients of the messages subsequently reported traveling less and washing their hands more frequently, and notifications to health workers of symptoms from such recipients doubled.
This striking result may seem surprising considering that lawmakers had been sending COVID-19 prevention messages for weeks to the people who received the videos.
One possible reason why video messages were more effective is that they provided specific and practical information on what symptoms to look for and detailed the steps people should take to report those symptoms, as well as instructions for how to prevent disease.
Even when the information is specific and actionable, the results may vary.
An ongoing study in Uganda, for example, seeks to understand the effects relative to emphasizing individual benefits versus emphasizing benefits to society with respect to the level of adherence to public health guidelines on COVID-19.
Policymakers may need to go beyond simply communicating prevention guidelines and need to more proactively combat misinformation
And what about the messenger?
In the Indian study, the person providing the information in the video - Nobel Prize-winning economist Abhijit Banerjee - is a well-known figure, so his message may have had a huge impact.
However, that study also demonstrated the role that peers can play.
It was even reported that those who did not receive the public health messages showed greater compliance with the covid-19 guidelines as a result of observing and emulating the behavior change of their neighbors.
This raises the question of whether peers are more effective than a third party when it comes to influencing behavior.
In Zambia, researchers are asking people to communicate health and covid-19 information to their family and friends via SMS messages, and these researchers are comparing the impact on preventive behavior linked to such messages with that linked to the messages. emanating from a central authority.
Policymakers may need to go beyond simply communicating prevention guidelines and more proactively combat misinformation that creates confusion and mistrust.
In Zimbabwe, local organizations sent WhatsApp messages to their newsletter subscribers to convey truthful information about COVID-19 and debunk misinformation about false cures.
These messages, coming from a trusted source, increased knowledge about the disease, and reports showed a reduction in harmful behaviors, such as a decrease in transgressions of confinement orders.
Similarly, economists in Mexico are working with the Institute of Public Health to assess how political leanings and the credibility of a messenger influence the level of trust that the message inspires, as well as adherence to guidelines.
The trust question is not limited to misinformation concerns.
We learned from the 2014-16 Ebola crisis in West Africa that policies that increase trust in the health system can improve cooperation with the guidelines being issued, which in turn leads to increased testing. in laboratory tests, to a reduction in the spread of the disease and, consequently, in mortality.
Research shows motivating people to get vaccinated is vital
The factors that help overcome and overcome the lack of trust in a healthcare system can vary greatly depending on the context.
In the United States, where health disparities among all racial groups are large, a study of preventive care found that black men were more likely to trust black doctors and were more likely to take various preventive health measures, including the administration of the flu vaccine, if they consulted with a doctor of the same race.
These results were supported by another study carried out in the United States, independent of the one already mentioned, which found that black adults who saw a video in which a doctor spoke about the prevention of the covid-19 virus were more likely to seek additional information if the doctor in the video was also black.
As we move into uncharted territory with covid-19 vaccines, research on how to drive preventive action could help us understand ways to increase immunization uptake.
So far, much of the attention has rightly been focused on vaccine supply chains and distribution challenges.
However, research shows that motivating people to receive the vaccine is vital, even in the absence of misinformation and mistrust factors.
Research conducted on immunization prior to the pandemic can inform our initial reflections on Covid-19 vaccination programs, and can help us formulate strategies to help increase vaccination acceptance.
Incorporating the lessons from socioeconomic research on the importance of the way in which information is transmitted, and the importance of who is the person who transmits such information, is particularly important in a context of misinformation, information overload. , and distrust in health systems.
To help us move toward a post-pandemic world, policymakers should carefully consider how these findings could be used to increase uptake of COVID-19 vaccines.
is Professor of Economics at Stanford University.
is Professor of Management and Applied Economics at MIT's Sloan School of Business Administration and Management.
is a professor at the Paris School of Economics.
Translation from English: Rocío L. Barrientos.
Project Syndicate, 2021
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