Trying to counter vaccine myths, especially, is unlikely to be the best approach. Studies my co-authors and I have conducted and research by other scholars suggest that science-focused corrections of vaccine misinformation are typically less effective than other messages—for example, focusing on the risks of the diseases that vaccines protect against. In some cases, correcting vaccine myths may be ineffective or even counterproductive.
The most effective messengers for vaccines are instead the medical professionals whom so many Americans trust. At the national level, that means Anthony Fauci, who polls more positively than the CDC itself and whose endorsement has been shown to increase vaccination intention. But people especially need to hear about the importance of getting vaccinated from trusted health-care providers. Parents, for instance, overwhelmingly name their child’s doctor as their most trusted source of information about vaccines. Primary-care providers for adults can hopefully play a similar role.
Not all Americans trust medicine and science. Reaching them will require working with well-regarded institutions, such as religious organizations, schools, businesses, and civic groups. It will be especially important to partner with advocates in communities that have been mistreated or marginalized in the past. Such an approach proved far more successful in reducing unsafe behaviors during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, for instance, than warnings from distrusted or unfamiliar sources. Public-health officials reported that messages about the risks posed by unsafe burial and mourning practices were most effectively delivered in conversations brokered by local leaders and community health workers.