Risk perception, risk management and safety assessment: what can governments do to increase public confidence in their vaccine system?

Biologicals. 2012 Sep;40(5):384-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biologicals.2011.08.001. Epub 2011 Oct 10.


For decades vaccine program managers and governments have devoted many resources to addressing public vaccine concerns, vaccine risk perception, risk management and safety assessment. Despite ever growing evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, public concerns continue. Education and evidence based scientific messages have not ended concerns. How can governments and programs more effectively address the public's vaccine concerns and increase confidence in the vaccine safety system? Vaccination hesitation has been attributed to concerns about vaccine safety, perceptions of high vaccine risks and low disease risk and consequences. Even when the public believes vaccines are important for protection many still have concerns about vaccine safety. This overview explores how heuristics affect public perception of vaccines and vaccine safety, how the public finds and uses vaccine information, and then proposes strategies for changes in the approach to vaccine safety communications. Facts and evidence confirming the safety of vaccines are not enough. Vaccine beliefs and behaviours must be shaped. This will require a shift in the what, when, how and why of vaccine risk and benefit communication content and practice. A change to a behavioural change strategy such as the WHO COMBI program that has been applied to disease eradication efforts is suggested.

Publication types

  • Congress

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Communication
  • Government*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • Health Promotion / standards
  • Humans
  • Mass Vaccination / methods
  • Mass Vaccination / psychology*
  • National Health Programs / organization & administration
  • National Health Programs / standards
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Patient Safety* / standards
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Public Opinion*
  • Risk
  • Risk Management / methods*
  • Vaccines / adverse effects
  • Vaccines / standards


  • Vaccines