Public health officials in the province of Ontario are creating a research centre to counter misinformation about immunization in hopes of increasing the rates of vaccination. This is prompted in part by several outbreaks of measles in Canada and the world, and a warning from the UN’s World Health Organization that hesitancy to vaccinate is one of the top 10 global health threats in 2019.
“The new centre has been set up to address a range of issues around immunization, but ultimately it’s to try and convince the public that vaccines are safe and effective,” says Natasha Crowcroft, chief science officer at Public Health Ontario. “We really want to drive home how strong the science is of immunization and address this issue that’s been called vaccine hesitancy by the World Health Organization.”
Centre seeks to build trust
The centre will look at who people trust. Crowcroft says many Canadians do not trust government, nor do they trust scientists. There will be an effort to get more scientists to speak in public about the safety of vaccines.
But Crowcroft says people put more trust in health care providers so there will be a focus on them. “We want to make sure that health care providers have the tools they need, they know how to approach parents who are questioning vaccines…And they need to have the right information to be able to answer all the questions that a patient or a parent might have.”
The centre will look for ways to obtain better data on vaccination rates. While they are generally high in Canada there is not much information about pockets where they lag. Researchers hope to develop ways to reach people who are either hesitant about immunization or reject it completely.
Funding will come from several sources including the University of Toronto and Public Health Ontario.
Ontario’s Chief Science Officer explains the mandate of the new research centre on immunization.Listen