Healthcare workers (HCW) are both priority groups for vaccinations and among the most influential in layperson’s vaccine decisions. Yet considerable vaccine hesitancy has been reported among HCW internationally, including in Belgium. During previous research which investigated the challenges to an effective acceptance of COVID-19 vaccination in Belgium (Transvaxx project 2020-21), we found that hesitant healthcare workers often do not voice their concerns to peers due to institutional and societal pressures to vaccinate, a phenomenon that we conceptualize as unspoken vaccine hesitancy. Healthcare workers experiencing unspoken vaccine hesitancy may have difficulties in surpassing their concerns and therefore in building vaccine confidence for themselves as well as for their patients.
We proposed to characterize and address healthcare workers’ unspoken vaccine hesitancy in the Flemish-speaking Flanders region and the primarily French, Flemish and English-speaking Brussels region in Belgium. We conducted a hybrid social listening by bringing together online and offline vaccine concerns. Alongside participating HCW, we co-created an online safe space where vaccine concerns of healthcare workers could be discussed between peers and with the assistance of a multidisciplinary team of researchers. The intervention was documented through implementation research methods and its impact evaluated using mixed methods.
Moving away from misinformation control and correction, our listening and dialogue driven method could be scaled and reapplied to other settings. It proposes to use social media as an innovative tool to build vaccine confidence and more broadly, dialogue and societal resilience.