William Roberts FRSPH, CEO, Royal Society for Public Health

Today marks the beginning of World Immunisation Week 2024. This week exists to raise awareness of the importance of this medicine, as well as the collective action needed to protect people from preventable diseases. 

The UK faces a concerning trend: we’re seeing the uptake of HPV vaccine failing to recover to pre-pandemic levels, no childhood vaccines met the 95% target in England last year, and the number of measles cases and whooping cough infections are on the rise.  

We know that having conversations about vaccination can influence uptake. Allowing someone to voice their concerns and supporting them with their queries creates a safe space where people feel confident to seek the information they need, ask all the questions they want, and build trust in the system. Actively listening and sharing knowledge are usually the answers to most of individuals’ troubles about vaccines.

Our World Immunisation Week Survey 

With this in mind, we asked people who work with vaccines if they think that having conversations about vaccines is more challenging now than it was 2 years ago, and 69% said they do. Fake news, distrust of vaccines, and unintelligible information were enumerated as the three main reasons for this.  

However, not to be defeated by the challenge, respondents also listed solutions to this challenge. They include having more people other than health and care professionals talking about vaccines, as well as offering training to other professionals and volunteers, and engaging with local communities.  

These thoughts go hand in hand with some of the proposals of the NHS England Vaccination Strategy, which suggests that we should have a diverse vaccinator workforce reflecting the community it serves. The Scotland Vaccination Transformation Programme also acknowledged the importance of knowing communities' needs, highlighting that vaccination services should understand patients' views. 

This is why, on this World Immunisation Week, we are inviting you all to have conversations about vaccines. We know from our engagement with the Wider Public Health Workforce that they have regular contact with members of communities. This workforce, with the appropriate training, can have conversations about vaccines and offer vital support to some individuals who can be uncertain about having a jab.  

We also know, from feedback from learners from our Level 2 Award in Encouraging Vaccination Uptake, that many of them felt more confident to have conversations about vaccination programmes after taking the qualification, as this training offers individuals tools to make them confident in enabling behaviour change.

How you can get involved 

To kick start our World Immunisation Week celebration, we invite you to keep an eye on our social media and to join us on the Communication About Vaccinations webinar this Friday. Together with Lancaster University, Leeds University and University College London, we’ll discuss how communication and the potential contribution of metaphors can help address concerns around vaccinations.  

Throughout the rest of the week we will be sharing our members’ brilliant knowledge and what you had to say in our survey – as well as highlighting our extensive past work in vaccines. So, with all of that in mind, let’s get talking! The more conversations we have, the more we can bust myths, support our communities, and help address concerns hindering vaccine uptake.