Never before, in most people’s memory, has the entire UK adult population been affected by a single issue which demands that each one of us forms a view on what we think of medicines and, in particular, vaccines .
In consequence the level of public interest in how medicines and vaccines are developed and regulated is, arguably, at an all-time high and the COVID-19 pandemic has served to shine a spotlight on the UK public’s basic understanding of the role that vaccines, especially, play in protecting the nation’s health.
However, the glare of that COVID-19 spotlight has, perhaps unsurprisingly, revealed fundamental disparities in public knowledge on the subject of medicines and vaccines. One manifestation of this is in the wide variety of responses to the approval and rollout of the vaccines themselves: ranging from welcome relief to outright opposition; with many shades of acceptance, doubt and concern in between.
The UK population’s lack of a solid basic education about medicines and vaccines, backed up by ready access to trusted sources of relevant information, is a problem. The resulting knowledge gap has been filled with the kind of conspiracy theories and misinformation, spread primarily via social media channels, which have been witnessed during the past year.
With public interest so high, now is the time to engage the wider population in a comprehensive programme of education and information that will empower every UK citizen to make informed decisions about the medicines they take and to critically evaluate what they are being told about medicines and vaccines, regardless of the information source.
The main challenge will be in how to create an education and information programme that is:
• Trusted (by the public).
• Accessible (to all UK citizens).
• Comprehensive (in terms of its content).