Shedding Light in the Darkness

The W.H.O. Guide to Vocal Vaccine Deniers

screen-shot-2016-08-18-at-4-36-49-pm_origThe European Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO)has published a 50 page guide for officials to publicly respond to what they term “vocal vaccine deniers.” “This guidance document provides basic broad principles for a spokesperson of any health authority on how to respond to vocal vaccine deniers,” it begins. “The suggestions are based on psychological research on persuasion, on research in public health, communication studies and on WHO risk communication guidelines.”

Here are some excerpts taken verbatim – Vocal vaccine deniers do not accept recommended vaccines and are not open to a change of mind no matter what the scientific evidence says.

Goal: Make the public audience more resilient againstanti-vaccine statements and stories; support the vaccine hesitants in their vaccine acceptance decision.

The vaccine denier has characteristics that are similar to religious and political fanatics in that he or she adheres to a belief that is impossible to challenge, whereas challenge is the fundamental tenet of scientific progress. The group of vocal vaccine deniers includes conspiracy-theorists some of whom are very highly educated individuals who are well aware of the available scientific literature.

Psychological research shows that similarity to an audience is a strong indicator for perceived credibility of a speaker. You as a spokesperson cannot influence the similarity of demographic aspects between the audience and yourself, but you can underline the similarity by using inclusive terms like “we as parents” or “ as members of a community.”

A well-groomed appearance is recommended. Additionally, it is very important to choose clothing, which neither distracts from the messages delivered nor looks too affluent in order to support the key messages and maintain similarity to the audience.

A frequently used discussion ploy is the so-called false dichotomy or black and white thinking. The speaker simplifies a complex issue by reducing the possible perspectives to only two options; the unacceptable or the noble one. For example, a denier may present his points in such a way where he appears to only want what is safe for children while the health authorities only represent financial interests. You as a spokesperson should identify, uncover and prepare a proper response to this technique.

The WHO document cautions that public health official should – Be aware that your evidence and opinion may put your personal safety in jeopardy.

Best Practice Guidance 1st Edition: How to Respond to Vocal Vaccine Deniers in Public


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